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I Larry Edmunds Bookshop, Inc. 
6658 Hollywood Blvd. 
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Digitized by the Internet Archive 
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THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 



THE HOUSE 


THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


WILL IRWIN 



1928 


DOUBLEDAY, DORAN ^ COMPANY, INC. 
GARDEN CITY, NEW YORK 


COPYRIGHT, 1928, BY DOUBLEDAY, DORAN 
& COMPANY, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. 
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES AT THE 
COUNTRY LIFE PRESS, GARDEN CITY, N. Y. 


FIRST EDITION 


CONTENTS 


BOOK I: BACKGROUNDS 

I. THE PENNY ARCADE 3 

II. THE ORPHAN OF RICSE 9 

III. CASTLE GARDEN 28 

BOOK II : STRUGGLE 

IV. NOVELTY FURS 43 

V. THE SOD HOUSE 54 

VI. BACK TO CHICAGO 63 

VII. A MARRIAGE AND A PARTNERSHIP JO 

VIII. ZUKOR BECOMES A SHOWMAN 82 

IX. THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY 98 

X. THE COMEDY THEATRE IO7 

XI. THE TRUST GOES TO SEED I24 

XII. ZUKOR PLOTS HIS FUTURE 139 

XIII. ENTER SARAH BERNHARDT 154 

XIV. EDISON WRITES A LETTER IJO 

XV. THE LOW SPOT 179 

BOOK III: FRUITION 

XVI. AND NOW, Hollywood! 197 

XVII. A DUEL 209 

XVIII. THE TIDE ROLLS ON 222 


V 


VI 


CONTENTS 


XIX. A CONQUEST OF WORLDS 233 

XX. EXIT MARY PICKFORD 244 

XXI. THE SOIL OF THE EARTH 260 

XXII. THE CAPSTONE 269 

XXIII. THE MAN AND THE MIND 202 


LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 


Adolph Zukor Frontispiece 

FACING PAGE 

Adolph Zukor at the age of eighteen 32 

Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation’s studio 
at Astoria, L. 1 . 33 

Mrs. Adolph Zukor 80 

Marcus Loew 81 

Entrance to Hale’s Tours, operated by Adolph 
Zukor in company with William A. Brady 104 

An interesting tennis group 105 

Mary Pickford in “The Poor Little Rich Girl” 136 

Daniel Frohman 137 

Sarah Bernhardt in “Queen Elizabeth,” the first 
poster ever made for the Famous Players Film 
Company 160 

The old Twenty-sixth Street studio rebuilt 16 1 

Jesse L. Lasky 208 

Airplane view of Paramount Famous Lasky Cor- 
poration’s studio in Hollywood 209 

After the fire. Ruins of the Famous Players 
studio in Twenty-sixth Street, New York 272 

The Paramount Building. Housing the Para- 
mount Theatre; this building towers thirty- 
nine stories above Times Square, New York 273 

vil 




BOOK I 

BACKGROUNDS 


CHAPTER I 


THE PENNY ARCADE 

jThe Penny Arcade — it had no name more characteris- 
tic, and needed none — stood in 1904 near the point 
where East Fourteenth Street, crossing Broadway, 
forms the southern side of Union Square. I for one re- 
member it well; there, a cub reporter fresh from the 
West, I used to indulge a passion for shooting with the 
miniature rifle. You paid twenty-five cents for a maga- 
zine of sixteen cartridges. That, in the Penny Arcade, 
seemed ostentatious spending. The standard unit of 
price for its other diversions and entertainments was 
one copper cent. By dropping such humble coin into a 
slot, you could make the automatic gypsy, who nodded 
reassuringly as she handed out the card, tell your 
fortune; you could obtain a horoscope with a portrait of 
your future husband or wife; you could stamp your 
name and address on an aluminum plate; you could 
hear, through two little insulators on a wire, the Flora- 
dora Sextette, Sousa’s Band, or the ravings of John Mac- 
Coullough as transmitted by Edison’s wonderful new 
invention the phonograph; you could punch the bag in 
competition with the records of Corbett, Jeffries, 
Fitzsimmons, and Terry McGovern; you could test your 


3 


4 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

resistance to the electric current or your lifting capacity. 
Finally, at the magic of the same little red coin, you 
could peer into a black eye-piece and witness such 
tabloid silent drama as The Servant GirFs Dream or Fun 
in a Boarding School. This, the first entity of the moving 
picture, was the most popular machine in the Penny 
Arcade. The dramas lasted as long as three quarters of a 
minute; and on Saturday nights a queue, with pennies 
in hand, waited its turn at the eye-piece. 

The managers of this pioneer enterprise chose their 
location shrewdly. Union Square was once heart and 
centre of the Broadway theatrical district. However, a 
decade or so before the Penny Arcade arrived, the thea- 
tres had suddenly hopped a dozen blocks northward and 
settled about Madison Square. The wave of immigra- 
tion from southern and eastern Europe was just then 
rising to its full tide. From the south and east, the im- 
migrants pressed on Union Square, which presently be- 
came their playground and political rallying-point. The 
Academy of Music lay a block eastward on Fourteenth 
Street. Once its very name suggested wealth and social 
eminence; now it became a German theatre. Between 
its site and the square lay old mansions and business 
buildings which in their time had housed wealthy resi- 
dents or dispensed the latest Parisian fashions. Saloons 
and dance halls took them over. Some of the dancing 
establishments were very tough; some merely cheap 
and joyful. Tom Sharkey, his ribs permanently dam- 


THE PENNY ARCADE 


S 

aged by his last fight with Jeffries, set up on this row his 
saloon and dance hall. He had been pride and champion 
of the United States Navy. Jack ashore thereupon aban- 
doned the Bowery and rushed to Fourteenth Street. 
When the fleet lay in New York Harbour, the sidewalks 
seemed to rock with the rolling gait of bluejackets and 
marines. 

f Nightly, immigrant folk too timid and ill at ease to 
venture into the sophisticated white-light district crowd- 
ed Union Square. The family groups among them cared 
little for the dance halls — they were too disreputable 
and expensive. The Penny Arcade, however, was a 
“first-class family resort,” and cheap. For twenty-five 
cents you could enjoy twenty-five separate and distinct 
forms of entertainment. The strength-testing devices 
made an urgent appeal to the bluejackets; by whole 
starboard watches, they raided the punching bag, the 
weights, the hammer device. Anyone with half an eye 
for business must have seen that this novel enterprise 
was making money. 

' A year or so later, uptowners who wandered into 
Fourteenth Street noticed that the Penny Arcade 
seemed to have expanded. The building next door, until 
recently a saloon, was now furnished forth with a crude 
marquee over which glowed the sign “ Comedy Theatre” 
and from which hung violent lithographs. These 
portrayed thief chases, train robberies, and similar 
thrilling violences; and a lettered strip, annexed to the 


6 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

lower border, announced that the Comedy showed mov- 
ing pictures. For the cinema had of late emerged from 
the little boxes which still occupied the Penny Arcade 
next door and — ^much against the judgment of Thomas 
A. Edison, its chief inventor — had taken timidly to a 
toy screen. Basement establishments on the East Side 
were already exhibiting European films with stories, 
incidents, and costumes shocking to the morals of the 
period; we heard the first growls of censorship. But the 
Comedy Theatre, like the Penny Arcade next door, 
stuck to “high-class family entertainment.” Though 
heroes shot villains and yeggs blew safes in full view of 
the audience and in defiance of our modern police regu- 
lations, no line or episode brought the blush to the most 
modest cheek. Presently, the Penny Arcade itself opened 
a “picture show” — admission five cents — on the floor 
above. 

A few years of this; and Fourteenth Street underwent 
another transformation. A Tammany clean-up wiped 
out the dance halls; presently prohibition was to do 
away with the saloons. It became the cheapest of all 
cheap shopping streets. The Penny Arcade and the 
Comedy Theatre disappeared, along with the more 
disreputable sister-establishments lying to eastward. 
A miniature department store whose windows exhibit 
three-dollar-and-ninety-six-cent dresses and one-dollar- 
and-forty-three-cent hats now occupies the site. Only 


THE PENNY ARCADE 


7 


a few New Yorkers remember them — they were so 
humble, of so little consideration ! 

Yet that site at 46 and 48 Union Square South de- 
serves, I think, its brass tablet. For here the gods of 
destiny made magic. Black muck in the bottom of a 
pond; and from that, by the incomprehensible leger- 
demain of nature, blows a water lily, the whitest thing 
in nature. Brown, common dirt in the bottom of a 
crucible; and from that oozes gold. The Penny Arcade 
was “over-owned.” Into it had come several men of 
very humble origin; mostly immigrants who landed be- 
fore the Federal Government required each newcomer 
to possess fifty dollars in cash — on the new terms, they 
could never have landed at all. When they finished with 
the Penny Arcade and branched out from it, they were 
on their way to wealth and power. All succeeded beyond 
any reasonable dream of an immigrant boy. Most, in- 
deed, became millionaires; and two, Adolph Zukor and 
Marcus Loew by name, many, many times millionaires. 

That, perhaps, is enough to justify this story of the 
Penny Arcade in South Union Square; what flowed into 
it and what emerged. However, there is a larger justifica- 
tion. The partners in this merry and amusing venture — 
and especially Zukor — were within a few years to take 
the moving picture out of our poorer quarters and set 
it into the heart of cities; were to serve destiny as chief 
agents in making it the third or fourth American in- 


8 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


dustry, for financial importance and the activity by 
which the American mind, in the second and third 
decades of the Twentieth Century, stamped most deeply 
its imprint on the Old World. 

It will be necessary now to go back to the beginnings 
of many things; to trace from their sources several cur- 
rents of life which flowed in 1904 into the Penny Arcade, 
South Union Square. Let us begin with the leading 
character: Adolph Zukor of Ricse, Hungary. 


CHAPTER II 


THE ORPHAN OF RICSE 

The town of Ricse lies on the borders of the Tokay 
wine district in Hungary. It has — and has had since the 
dawn of its recorded history — less than two thousand 
inhabitants. It does not differ in essentials from a 
myriad of other little farming centres scattered over the 
face of Europe. There is a main street of settled gray- 
stone buildings; a square with a town hall; a fringe of 
small houses with flagged and scrubbed front steps. 
Land is precious and the houses huddle so close together 
that one seems to be living in a community building 
with every other inhabitant. The farms, checkerboarded 
between low stone walls, come up to the very pavements. 
As generally throughout Europe, the farmers lodge in 
town and go forth to their cultivating on foot or on 
the backs of their work horses. Life is rooted in the 
soil. The banker deals in lands; and even the store- 
keepers till their little inherited patches of five or ten 
acres. 

To this class of small tradesmen belonged the Zukors. 
As far back as exact family history ran, they had owned 
a succession of humble shops at Ricse. They had been 
Hungarians for so many generations that they, like the 


9 


lo THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

rest of Ricse, stood rooted in the soil. In the ’sixties of 
the last century, just when the current of world politics 
was carrying Hungary into the arms of Austria and to a 
German overlordship which provincial Ricse loathed, 
Jacob Zukor, a younger son, owned and ran the little 
general store. 

Now among the tradesmen of Ricse was a newcomer, 
Nathan Liebermann by name. He sprang from Sina, a 
small town up in the hills where they make the Tokay 
wine. The Liebermanns had a different background from 
the Zukors, though they, too, had lived time out of mind 
in Hungary. From grandfather to father to son, they 
passed on the rabbinical tradition. The oldest boy was 
devoted at his birth to service of the temple, and in some 
generations, all the boys. If they felt no call to religion 
the men of the Liebermanns usually became physicians. 
Always they had saved and scrimped from the tiny 
wages of country clergymen to give the boys a higher 
education. Nathan was an exception. He felt no call to 
the clergy, to medicine, to any intellectual occupation. 
Having acquired a little store in Sina, he sold it and 
moved to Ricse, which offered greater opportunity. 

To him, shortly after his removal, came visiting his 
sister Hannah. Elderly Ricse still remembers her as a 
young girl of singularly delicate beauty. Jacob Zukor, 
visiting his competitor, beheld her and fell almost vio- 
lently in love. So, for that matter, did Hannah Lieber- 
mann. The affair ran the normal course. They married, 


THE ORPHAN OF RICSE 


II 


and Hannah Zukor exchanged the economical gentility 
of a country parsonage for a hard life as wife to a peasant 
storekeeper. They had three sons. The first died in early 
infancy. Five years later came Arthur, vigorous and 
bright from his birth; and two years after (January 7, 
1873) a small but healthy and well-formed boy whom 
they named Adolph. 

When Adolph was one year old and Arthur three, 
Jacob Zukor essayed one day to lift a heavy box. He 
strained himself, broke a vein. That seemed only a minor 
accident until blood poisoning set in; and after much 
suffering, he died. Left alone with two small children, 
Hannah Zukor did the only thing possible for a woman 
of her time and place. The business was her sole asset for 
bringing up her children. That a woman should conduct 
a shop seemed an impossible thought for the Ricse of 
the time when Emperor Franz Josef was young. With 
frank reluctance, she married again. From that day she 
went into a decline and when Adolph was seven years old, 
she died. Her surviving relatives do not even remember 
what the doctors named as her malady, so certain are 
they of the real cause — a broken heart. That marriage to 
Jacob Zukor had been a singularly close and personal 
union; “they were wrapped up in each other.” When he 
died, her world went away from her. 

If I mention this intimate detail, it is by way of prov- 
ing an old-fashioned and sentimental theory. This mar- 
riage produced two extraordinary man-children. Both 


12 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


Arthur and Adolph lived to create for themselves dis- 
tinguished careers, though along strangely diverse lines. 
And our fathers held that the best children spring from 
harmony and perfect love. That, however, is one human 
value which eugenics cannot weigh in the scales of 
science. 

1 What was going to happen to little Arthur and little 
Adolph? For a year, the Zukors and Liebermanns 
argued the question. Patently their stepfather did not 
want them; as a matter of fact, in a year or so he married 
again. By the law of the Dual Monarchy, the slender 
proceeds from sale of their father’s property passed into 
possession of the state, which would deliver the interest, 
as needed, to their lawful guardians and would pay 
them the principal when they came of age. The interest 
might furnish them with clothes, medical attendance, 
school books, and trimmings. It would not suffice to 
pay their board. Adolph Zukor still remembers his 
eighth year as a period of dreadful and gloomy uncer- 
tainty. He knows now for what he waited. Rabbi Kal- 
man Liebermann, his maternal uncle, was steeling him- 
self to a great sacrifice. 

, A little after his sister’s marriage, Kalman had taken 
over the synagogue at Szalka, a town ten miles away, to 
which little Ricse was as a metropolis. Arthur, his 
sister’s oldest boy, was a brilliant child; and even 
the quieter Adolph showed promise. If someone would 
board them, give them guidance, the inheritance might 


THE ORPHAN OF RICSE 


13 


provide for their higher education — often the official 
guardians granted to a promising orphan boy a part of 
his capital in advance of his twenty-first year. With 
care, economy, and sacrifice, it might be done. And 
his dead sister, true to her family tradition, had wished 
to dedicate these sons of hers to religion. Rabbi Kalman 
Liebermann decided to accept the burden; and in a 
country diligence, Adolph and Arthur journeyed to 
Szalka. 

There followed six years of close living in a village 
parsonage, and of peaceful monotony. The orphans 
entered the common school at Szalka. Arthur had al- 
ready a year or two of primary education; but it was a 
new experience for Adolph. Arthur was born with the 
gift of expression. He went ahead fast — the bright boy 
of every class in which he found himself. Also, he was 
beginning to show that spirituality which marked his 
mature career. He was always playing at preaching, with 
his schoolmates, his cousins, and Adolph as congrega- 
tion. 

As for Adolph — it was harder to tell. Somewhat under 
the shadow of this brilliant elder brother, he turned 
out a quiet boy with a placid front overlying a hot 
temper. He showed little or none of the family talent for 
expression. His favourite study was geography; but he 
got his best marks in arithmetic. In Hungarian language 
and literature he graded only fair; and in German, then 
a required study of all schools in the Dual Monarchy, 


14 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

he just crowded past the mark that designated failure. 
So life went placidly until at the age of thirteen Adolph 
was graduated from the grade school and stood ready 
to go on to the Gymnase, equivalent to our high school, 
whither the brilliant Arthur had preceded him two years 
before. Adolph was small for his age; a healthy, active, 
energetic boy, but silent and thoughtful. 

One person seems to have perceived some unusual 
quality underlying Adolph’s reserved exterior. Samuel 
Rosenberg, the head master, had won his shy confidence. 
As Adolph packed up his books for the last time, he 
came suddenly out of his shell and told this sympathetic 
teacher the thought of his heart. In the way he seemed 
destined to go, he saw no promise; for he was not espe- 
cially religious and he lacked the essential gift for speak- 
ing. If he passed on to the Gymnase and to some higher 
school, life offered only one alternative : he could become 
a country notary, keeping up appearances on the income 
of a minor clerk. Medicine, that traditional second 
choice of the Liebermanns, was impossible in his case; 
the estate could not support the long years in college 
and professional school. He wanted to do something else 
• — he didn’t know exactly what, but something practical, 
something active. 

This is the substance of the conversation as Adolph 
Zukor remembered it forty years later. One can only 
imagine its boyish exaggerations and despairs. The fact 
that neither he nor his teacher conceived of any career 


THE ORPHAN OF RICSE 


IS 

for an educated man except that of notary or village 
rabbi illustrates the narrow outlook of the circle into 
which he was born. 

Samuel Rosenberg listened sympathetically, drew him 
out, and then did a thing which Adolph Zukor was long 
in forgiving. Impelled by sense of duty, he reported the 
conversation to Kalman Liebermann. The Rabbi took 
it hard. Although Adolph held up his end in the subse- 
quent family row, he sympathized a little and sym- 
pathizes wholly now with his uncle’s point of view. 
Rabbi Liebermann, in taking on these two orphans, had 
performed an act of pure sacrifice to the memory of a 
favourite sister and to religion. It had forced the Lieber- 
manns to live so closely that every pinch of salt and 
every pin counted. “A new pair of shoes,” said Adolph 
Zukor years later, “was an event.” And in the case of 
Adolph, the sacrifice had gone in vain. When at last the 
Rabbi cooled off, he did the sensible thing. 

As I have said already, Szalka is ten miles from Ricse. 
Ten miles in another direction lies Szanto, a small wine- 
growing centre. There Herman Blau, well and favourably 
known to Kalman Liebermann, kept the big general 
store. A few weeks later Adolph Zukor, taking his initial 
step into the outer world, travelled to Szanto by dili- 
gence with his articles of apprenticeship in his pocket. 
By their terms he must serve Herman Blau truly and 
faithfully for the space of three years. 

Apprenticeship in Hungary does not differ essentially 


i6 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


from that gloomy servitude of the English draper’s shop 
with which H. G. Wells has acquainted us in Mr. Polly 
and The Wheels of Chance. The apprentices sleep in a 
one-room dormitory over the shop, eat below the salt 
with the shopkeeper’s family. When he deposited his 
bundle beside his cot, Adolph discovered four other 
apprentices, all peasant boys from the surrounding 
fields. The conversation and the pranks that night 
shocked him to his marrow. Plain living and high think- 
ing stood the unexpressed motto of the Liebermann 
family. “Uncle Kalman,” said Zukor in his maturity, 
“was marooned in the country, but he was a big man. 
He hadn’t gone to seed, and he hadn’t become a fossil.” 
At that country parsonage, one heard constant discus- 
sion on things of the mind and of the spirit; especially, 
Kalman Liebermann had trained his brood in purity of 
thought and correctness of Hungarian speech. Adolph’s 
citified ways and grammatical speech irritated the 
yokels; and his small stature tickled their crude sense of 
humour. “I felt,” says Zukor, “as though someone had 
dropped me into a sewer.” After the evening’s hazing, 
he lay awake in the darkness, stuffing the bedclothes 
into his mouth and resisting the temptation to run away 
— back to the congenial home of Rabbi Liebermann. But 
pluck and pride, two of his governing qualities, pulled 
him through. And when next morning Herman Blau 
taught him how to wrap up bundles, his spirits began to 
mount. 


THE ORPHAN OF RICSE 


17 


Within six months, his industry and intelligence made 
him the favourite apprentice. The Blaus, and especially 
the large brood of Blau daughters, liked him; virtually 
took him into the family. Though comparatively un- 
educated, they were reading people; and they shared 
their books with him. It was not “serious reading,” 
however. They liked adventure and romance, a kind of 
literature which Kalman Liebermann excluded from his 
own library as frivolous and dispiritualizing. Adolph 
devoured the standard Hungarian novelists, and, in 
translation, the great western European romancers like 
Dumas and DeFoe. Also, the American dime novel — 
translated, of course — enjoyed a vogue in Hungary. 
Just as in the land of its origin, careful parents forbade 
the dime novel to children. However, one of the younger 
Blau girls was secretly an addict; and she slipped worn 
copies on to Adolph. From their tales of Indians and 
cowboys, of poor boys suddenly grown rich, he found a 
romantic picture of America. Probably the American 
dime novel was the primary cause of his subsequent 
migration. 

But for this taste of the Blaus he would have gone 
unbooked. His apprenticeship furnished his board and 
lodging and Rothing more. Twice a year, he drew upon 
the little estate of his father a requisition for his other 
necessities. His first experience taught him to ask for 
more than he needed. One suit of clothes, one hat, one 
pair of shoes, so many shirts, suits of underwear, socks 


i8 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

— and a few trimmings, thrown in not because Adolph 
really expected them but because they furnished a 
margin for pruning. The list went first to his uncle 
Ignatz Zukor at Ricse; for he, and not the philanthropic 
but impractical Kalman Liebermann, stood as official 
guardian to Arthur and Adolph. Ignatz Zukor inspected 
the list and cut it down according to his ideas of what 
was good for a growing boy. Then the banker who held 
the fund in trust took his turn and filed off the edges. 
Their system made no allowance for such frivolous lux- 
uries as books or spending-money. Until he finished his 
apprenticeship at the age of fifteen, Adolph Zukor had 
never jingled in his pocket a single copper coin which 
he could call his own. 

The term of indenture expired early in the summer of 
1888. Adolph had grown by now so valuable to the store 
that Herman Blau, instead of sending him out with a 
blessing to find a job, asked him to stay on as assistant 
at a salary equivalent to two American dollars a month 
and board. But that, the first real money he had ever 
earned, brought no thrill of accomplishment to young 
Adolph Zukor. Instead, it seemed again to mark and to 
symbolize the narrowness of the goal toward which he 
had been making for the past three years. Just as when 
he left grammar school, he sat down and deliberated on 
his present and future. By renouncing a higher educa- 
tion, he had only reached another impasse, bound him- 
self to another wheel. For some years, he would receive 


THE ORPHAN OF RICSE 


19 


this meagre salary. Successive raises might bring it to 
eight dollars American a month; the very height of ex- 
pectation in that direction. When he came of age, he 
would receive his share of the inheritance. With that, 
he could perhaps buy a minority partnership in Blau’s 
store, or start a very humble shop of his own. Beyond — 
nothing. 

His constant reading had given him a picture of the 
world outside; a little lurid, perhaps, but accurate in its 
main outlines. He had begun to see in perspective the 
triangle of farming country bounded by Ricse, Szanto, 
and Szalka. For a man of ambition, it was hopeless. 
People were born, grew up, mated, bred offspring, 
worked until death with no aim or object except pro- 
viding for to-day’s necessities. None dreamed of rising 
above his father’s level in society. At the other pole 
stood glittering America, where men of ambition 
achieved miracles. For though he was growing old and 
wise enough not to swallow all the details of the trans- 
lated dime novels, the glamour of their atmosphere 
lingered in his mind. Also, a few other young men of the 
Ricse district had felt the stirrings of adventure and 
sailed for New York. They wrote of wages as high as 
ten or fifteen dollars a week. To prove it, they were 
sending remittances to their parents. 

He had no money for his passage — but there was the 
little inheritance. The Orphans’ Bureau of the Austro- 
Hungarian government had the right to draw in neces- 


20 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


sity upon the principal. With Arthur’s share they pro- 
posed soon to do exactly that. Arthur, having finished 
the Gymnase in a blaze of glory, was going on to the 
University at Berlin. For Kalman Liebermann saw in 
this brilliant elder nephew not only a real rabbi but a 
jewel of the Temple. Officially Kalman adopted him; he 
went on his career, which fulfilled all the early expecta- 
tions, as Arthur Liebermann. 

Before young Adolph had drawn the wages of his 
second month, his gloomy meditations crystallized into 
decision. He would go to America; and the estate must 
pay his passage. Immediately he set on foot a series of 
adolescent diplomacies. Herman Blau was the first ob- 
stacle. When Adolph, on closing his apprenticeship, ac- 
cepted service in the general store, he had bound himself 
to stay with the job for a year. Through all his early, 
struggling career, impatience was his personal devil; the 
alloy of his splendid energies. That year seemed an 
eternity. 

“I want to go to America,” he said when he sum- 
moned the courage to have it out with his employer. 
“Right away — this autumn.” 

On the American question, Herman Blau was open- 
minded. His own daughter had married and emigrated 
to New York; her husband had found a good job in a 
department store. He, too, believed that America made 
magic. On the other hand, he disliked to lose an assistant 
so cheap and valuable. 


THE ORPHAN OF RICSE 


21 


“Wait until your year is out,” he said. Plainly, he 
believed that by then Adolph might get over the 
notion. 

Whereupon Adolph fell into a melancholy decline; 
half genuine, half assumed. The Blau daughters, who re- 
garded this quiet little apprentice boy as a brother and 
who had themselves a dime-novel picture of America, 
threw in their powerful influence on his side. At last, 
Herman Blau gave a reluctant consent. Adolph might 
go — and whenever he wished. 

The next and harder obstacle was his uncle and 
guardian. Adolph knew Ignatz Zukor, farmer, shop- 
keeper, and miller, for a stiff-necked and conservative 
man. He would need special treatment. Adolph scribbled 
for days in composing a letter which would begin the 
process of melting him. In this little masterpiece, he 
not only recited his reasons for wanting to emigrate, but 
he exaggerated his miseries and introduced sinister, in- 
sincere hints at self-destruction. The first sentence of 
Ignatz Zukor’s hasty answer had an emotional tone 
which indicated that the plot was working. 

“My dear Nephew,” it began. “You always seemed 
a sensible boy. Therefore I am astounded. . . .” How- 
ever, there was no hurry. “Let us look into the matter. 
Let us write to Dr. Gustavus Liebermann.” Gustavus 
was a cousin of Adolph’s who had gone to New York 
and established a practice on Lexington Avenue. Noth- 
ing to do now but wait. 


22 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILTj 


In a month, Ignatz Zukor sent the reply of Cousin 
Gustavus. America, it said, was a hard place for the 
new immigrant. Ignorant of the language, he always 
found difficulty in getting a job. Often he became a 
public charge; just as often he gave it up and wrote 
home for money. Gustavus would not wish a cousin 
of his to take such chances. 

“You see. . . .” wrote Uncle Ignatz Zukor. 

But America had become an obsession with Adolph. 
He renewed his importunities and his sinister hints. 

“Well,” wrote Uncle Ignatz at last, “come here and 
talk it over.” 

i So Adolph bade a confident farewell to the Blaus, 
and walked to Ricse with his few belongings on his back. 
To-day, he is a rather silent man except when he has 
something significant to say; then he can become most 
eloquent and persuasive. Perhaps he had these same 
traits even in his adolescence. At any rate, in two or 
three days he had won over Uncle Ignatz. 

‘ Last and greatest obstacle was that town banker who, 
in matters concerning the little Zukor estate, acted as 
deputy for the Orphans’ Bureau. Uncle Zukor made an 
appointment for a hearing on the matter. Adolph lay 
awake nights composing his selling-talk. He was still 
undersized; as he delivered it, his head scarcely appeared 
above the banker’s high desk. This fervid oration was 
probably a charming mixture of tragic juvenile emotion 
and premature common sense. For the banker listened. 


THE ORPHAN OF RICSE 


23 


and finally agreed. He was about to sign the paper which 
would send Adolph to America when his expression stif- 
fened. He dropped his pen and called Ignatz Zukor aside, 
i “Suppose,” he said, “that this boy has committed 
some crime or faces some disgrace and wants to emigrate 
in order to escape the consequences!” 

“He has queer notions, but he was always a good 
boy,” maintained Uncle Ignatz Zukor. 

“I cannot accept that assurance from a relative,” re- 
plied the banker. “I must delay my decision until I 
communicate with his employer.” 

Adolph waited three days more. Then came a post- 
card: 

Adolph hat nicht verschuldei. [Adolph has done nothing wrong.] 

Herman Blau. 

So with their apprehensive blessing, his relatives 
-hipped little Adolph Zukor to America. Uncle Ignatz 
bought his ticket — third class — straight through to 
Berlin; his aunts and cousins packed in a straw hamper 
provision for the journey. At Berlin, Arthur Liebermann 
took him from the train and led him to his own little 
student room. They had not trusted Adolph with the 
steamer-ticket ; Arthur had bought that and was holding 
it for him. Also, the estate had granted the equivalent 
of forty dollars for his start in the New World. Arthur 
changed this into American bills. With his own hand, 
he sewed these into the lining of Adolph’s second-best 
waistcoat. Next, the trip to Hamburg — Arthur put his 


24 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

ticket personally into the hands of the conductor — and 
finally, the steamer Russia. 

This was one of those decrepit little baskets which 
plied between Germany and the United States in the 
’eighties; the great American merchant marine lingered 
in the womb of time. The steerage was incredibly foul, 
morally as well as physically. As yet, we were enforcing 
no restrictions whatever on immigration. The ship’s 
company represented the scum of Europe, mixed with a 
little of the unrisen cream — like that undersized boy of 
sixteen now beginning to experience distressing symp- 
toms in his upper berth. After one look at his surround- 
ings, he had decided that it would be more hygienic not 
to undress. He wore his second-best suit, with the forty 
dollars sewed into the lining, through a seventeen-day 
voyage during which he never left his berth. To this 
day, Adolph Zukor looks forward to a sea voyage as to 
a major illness. 

“Lucky I didn’t undress,” he said years later. “With 
the company I was keeping, the forty dollars wouldn’t 
have lasted forty minutes ! They were robbing each other 
all through the voyage.” 

There were no landing formalities. The Russia simply 
ran up to the sea wall at Castle Garden, lashed along- 
side, and drove its passengers ashore. Zukor, like Pupin 
and Schurz before him, stepped on to the soil of the 
New World at Battery Park, an unconsidered little 
animal in a filthy and bedraggled human herd. 


THE ORPHAN OF RICSE 


25 

It was early evening of an autumn day in 1888. The 
downtown business district had not yet closed up shop 
and gone home to dinner, but darkness had begun to 
fall; and all the windows glistened with that new metro- 
politan marvel, electric lights. In the foreground at 
Number One Broadway stood the pioneer twelve-story 
skyscraper, highest office building in the world; a tower 
of luminescence. Adolph Zukor carries to this day a 
memory of the exaltation which bathed his soul. 

Let us look him over as he steps ashore. Not long 
afterward he had his photograph taken, and a print 
survives. It shows a comely, swarthy-skinned boy with 
bright, expressive eyes — hazel brown in the flesh — firm 
brows, a nose just slightly aquiline, a mouth which 
closed as tight as a trap, a round, compact head with a 
thatch of close-cropped, raven-black hair. This runs to 
a “widow’s peak” in front and seems formed to match 
a pointed depression at the middle of his upper lip. He 
had not yet reached his full growth; and he was never to 
reach five feet four inches in stature. But it was a finely 
formed little body, both wiry and rugged. His small feet, 
even now, point straight forward like an Indian’s; and 
he can walk forever. 

Already, as this brief narrative proves, he had begun 
to show the courage with life, the judgment and the 
ambition which made his subsequent career. Whence 
first sprang the ambition — in the unaspiring atmosphere 
of Ricse — one would find it hard to say. Such traits, 


26 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


modern psychologists tell us, take hold of the soul in 
those years before the mind begins to make conscious 
records. The Liehermanns, his mother’s family, had 
always shown more urge for eminence than the other 
people of their circle; and perhaps the broken-hearted 
Hannah Liebermann planted this seed in both her sons. 
Further, emulation of his brother Arthur, for whom 
Kalman Liebermann was doing so much, had its distinct 
influence on Adolph. 

' His education, so far, was of such sort as to fit him 
for that career which, after many vicissitudes, he would 
enter fifteen years later — the expansion of the moving 
picture into a major American industry. His schooling 
had not passed beyond what we call in America the 
eighth grade. However, European education was then 
much more thorough then American. And from his 
school or his innate qualities, he had acquired the best 
practical fruit of education — the orderly mind. He 
thinks on straight lines; he has a passion for seeing things 
as they are. In that respect, he is perhaps innately edu- 
cated. Had he gone on like his brother Arthur to the 
University, he might have done great things; but prob- 
ably not with the moving picture. That needs the com- 
mon touch, which a higher education usually dulls. Even 
his reading had helped him along the road which he was 
to travel. He read by habit “for the story.” If he were 
called upon to list the books that have helped him, he 
would have to include the American dime novel ! 


THE ORPHAN OF RICS.E 27 

Then as now he had a deep-running nature, at bot- 
tom romantic and sentimental. But then as now he hid 
it under a face which, in emotional stress, became a 
mask. Essentially, he was as shy as an Englishman; 
and, like an Englishman, least expressive when most 
deeply moved. 


CHAPTER III 


CASTLE GARDEN 

e$*EWED into the lining of his second-best waistcoat be- 
side the precious forty dollars, Adolph treasured a note- 
book with the addresses of a few Ricse people who had 
transplanted themselves to New York. Dr. Gustavus 
Liebermann, his cousin, headed the list. However, the 
doctor had advised against his emigration. Adolph felt 
none too sure of his welcome in that quarter — especially 
since he looked, after his fortnight in an upper bunk, 
like a specimen from a garbage pail. Next in order was a 
certain Mrs. Lowy who, as an older girl, had played with 
the Liebermann children in Ricse. 

On the edge of Battery Park stood drawn up a line 
of express wagons. An experienced Hungarian from the 
steerage told him that these conveyances made a busi- 
ness of transporting passengers and their goods. Adolph 
approached the nearest wagon and showed Mrs. Lowy’s 
address. The driver nodded, helped him pile his luggage 
aboard, drove him to a tenement in Second Street, 
took a fifty-cent piece from the handful of change which 
Adolph proffered, and helped find Mrs. Lowy’s door. 

When that opened, Mrs. Lowy stared for a half min- 
ute at this little scarecrow and then fell on its neck. 


38 


CASTLE GARDEN 


29 


Plying him with questions about Ricse and Ricse peo- 
ple, she prepared him the first meal he had been able to 
retain for a fortnight. This finished, she got his best suit 
out of his little hair-cloth trunk, pressed it, filled the 
wash-tub with hot water, and left him alone in the kit- 
chen for a scrub. His self-respect restored, Adolph felt 
less timid about Cousin Gustavus. He slept that night in 
a scratched-up bed on the floor of Mrs. Lowy’s parlour; 
and next morning enquired his way to the doctor’s office 
in Lexington Avenue. 

Gustavus proved an agreeable disappointment. “ Come 
and stay with me until you find something to do,” he 
said. So Adolph transferred his hair-cloth trunk from 
the tenement of the hospitable Mrs. Lowy to the doc- 
tor’s uptown flat. 

Nevertheless, Dr. Gustavus had in the pessimistic 
letter told the truth. There seemed small chance of 
Adolph getting a job until he learned something of the 
difficult, unfamiliar English language. Six months at 
school might turn the trick, but Adolph had no funds to 
keep him going meanwhile. Dr. Gustavus put out 
feelers in the Hungarian colony. They came to nothing. 
An undersized, greenhorn boy without a trade or with- 
out English seemed a worthless piece of human material. 

Meantime, Adolph walked the streets of Manhattan; 
a gaping young rustic in a strangely cut suit of old- 
country clothes. He had whirled through Budapest, 
Vienna, and Berlin, seeing little beyond the railroad 


30 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

station. Now, he had at the same time his first view of 
his new world and of a great city. There were as yet no 
skyscrapers except that twelve-story building at Num- 
ber One Broadway; but all things human are relative, 
and the six-story office buildings seemed to pierce the 
clouds. The automobile was a decade away; but down 
Broadway ran end to end public conveyances with no 
engine before or behind — propelled as by force of circum- 
stances. Overhead clattered the Elevated; itself just 
lately electrified. 

He stood on Fifth Avenue, reviewing the afternoon 
parade of hansoms, of private carriages with footmen 
on the boxes and ladies lolling within. He dodged 
through the splendours of the Ladies’ Mile on Broadway, 
watching the bustled and coiffured peacocks ply their 
shopping — such women as his adolescent imaginings had 
never dared dream on. He stood fascinated before the 
array of big diamonds in the window of Tiffany’s, 
Union Square. He must have glanced diagonally across 
the square to a row of conservative four-story buildings 
housing on their ground floor “specialties for ladies.” 
No flash of prescience told him that there, fifteen 
years later and when all the glory was gone from old 
Union Square, he would begin to build his fortune. . . . 
A year or so later, Thomas Alvah Edison sent to Oscar 
King Davis of the New York Sun a cryptic message 
about “something new.” Davis rushed to the laboratory 
at East Orange. Edison made him apply his eye to a little 


CASTLE GARDEN 


31 


chute covered with black cloth. Davis beheld a lighted 
piece of glass. Upon it appeared the photograph of a 
man. It glittered oddly. Then the man began to move. 
Jerkily, the image skipped, danced, leaped. . . . 

At night, young Adolph Zukor wandered up the the- 
atrical zone of Broadway where that new marvel, the 
electric light, illuminated the posters of Booth in classi- 
cal tragedy, of Ada Rehan in classical comedy. Be- 
tween the theatres, swinging doors opened into gilded 
and glittering saloons, from which floated the lively 
rattle of masculine talk and laughter. This brilliant 
quarter mile ended before Broadway widened out into 
Longacre Square; an irregular quadrangle of shops and 
bars housed in what had been fine old residences. 

Again, prescience withheld its magic. No thrill fore- 
told the Paramount Building, built on the increment of 
shadows, guarding the gateway to a new city of light. 
. . . The crowds, thronging the streets pavement-full, 
did not overawe and depress him as they do so many 
who behold the great metropolis for the first time. 
Weaker spirits, come to New York in search of fortune, 
have terminated their adventuring in the first three 
weeks, unable to endure the overwhelming impersonality 
of this river of souls. But they inspired him; he fell in 
love on sight with the metropolis. 

The exalted interest of this mood alternated with 
anxiety. Dr. Gustavus could find him no job. When his 
quandary took hold of him, Adolph always walked over 


32 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

to the East Side and unbosomed himself to the warm 
and understanding Mrs. Lowy. She was working in her 
own way. On the third Sunday of the Zukor invasion of 
America, she called together the Hungarian denizens 
of her tenement house for a symposium on the burning 
question: what could be done about Adolph.'* 

An upholsterer spoke up. “Maybe the boy can’t 
stand the work,” he said, “but they’re looking for an 
apprentice in my shop.” 

Next morning, Adolph presented himself to the fore- 
man and was engaged at two dollars a week. The fore- 
man put him to tacking covers on sofas. You knelt on 
the spring upholstery, forced it down with your weight, 
pulled the cover into place, and drove home the tack. 
Naturally clever with his hands, Adolph Zukor caught 
the trick in a day. But his size proved a distressing 
handicap. He weighed less than a hundred pounds. 
Where the heavyweights working beside him forced 
down the springs without difficulty, he lived through a 
perpetual wrestling match. After two weeks of this, he 
felt his strength passing; plainly, he was not born for an 
upholsterer. Then, as he walked heavily home from 
work on the second Saturday night, a voice hailed him 
in Hungarian from a front stoop — Max Gross of all peo- 
ple! Max was one of those peasant apprentice boys at 
Blau’s store who had given him that spiritual hazing 
on his first night at Szanto. Somehow, he had broken his 
indenture not long after Adolph arrived, and disap- 



Adolph Zukor at the age of eighteen 



Paramount Fatuous Lasky Corporation' s studio at Astoria, 


CASTLE GARDEN 


33 


peared from the region. They sat down on the front 
stoop, exchanging greetings, views, and gossip. 

Max had a job with a furrier; was learning the trade. 
It was a great business with a future. Experts got salaries 
as high as twenty-five dollars a week. Upholstery — what 
kind of business was that? Thereupon, Adolph Zukor 
told his troubles. 

*‘l should say so!” replied Max Gross. “Now the fur 
business is easy. You start in as errand boy and our shop 
is full of Hungarians, so you don’t have to know Eng- 
lish. I’ll tell you what I’ll do — you come round next 
Monday morning and I’ll introduce you to the Boss. 
His people and mine are cousins in the old country.” 

It was perhaps a gamble; but Adolph knew that he 
could not long endure sofa-covering. He reported at the 
upholstery shop on Monday morning only to hand in 
his resignation, repaired to the factory of A. A. Frankel 
at Mercer and Houston streets, lingered about the place 
until the noon hour. Then he and Max invaded the 
restaurant where the Boss was having luncheon and 
presented their application. Without a break of a day, 
Adolph Zukor went to work as errand boy — at four 
dollars a week. 

He swept the floor; he gathered up the leavings and 
trimmings; he carried messages; he made himself gen- 
erally useful. As his few words of English became rel- 
atively intelligible, he passed down the work-benches 
at lunch time, taking orders and collecting dimes. 


34 the house that SHADOWS BUILT 

Then he did business with a glassed-in lunch counter 
which protruded from the front of an old house in Hous- 
ton Street. The cashier, when Adolph took away the 
last order, used to tip him a glass of milk and a sand- 
wich or an apple and a piece of pie. And Adolph was a 
healthy sixteen-year-old boy, who could never eat too 
much! 

After the busy season ended at Frankel’s, he found 
that the house of Ederstrom, “Fur Novelties,” in West 
Third Street, offered a better chance to learn the trade. 
So, still at four dollars a week, he began his third ap- 
prenticeship. With those deft hands of his, he went 
rapidly ahead. By 1891, when he stood on the verge of 
nineteen years, he was a full-fledged journeyman mak- 
ing the respectable wage of eight dollars a week. 

When he got his job in the upholsterer’s, Adolph left 
the flat of Gustavus Liebermann and went to board on 
Lewis Street in the heart of the East Side with the Selt- 
zers, remote cousins from Ricse. They charged him 
three dollars a week; and he was making only two dol- 
lars. He supplied the difference from the little hoard in 
the lining of his second-best waistcoat. After he settled 
down into “furs,” he boarded, at the same standard fee, 
with Mrs. Blau, daughter of the storekeeper to whom he 
was apprenticed at Szanto; she had married a cousin of 
the same name. Warm clothes against the New York 
winter had by now finished his treasured forty dollars. 

The era of monotonous five-story tenements on the 


CASTLE GARDEN 


3S 


East Side was only beginning. The Blau flat in Ninth 
Street near Second Avenue occupied the floor of what 
had been in the days of President Jackson a fine man- 
sion; there was even a big back yard. Mr. Blau lived very 
prettily on his salary as floorwalker for a Grand Street 
department store. For Adolph’s three dollars a week, 
Mrs. Blau not only gave the little apprentice a clean 
bed, breakfast, and dinner, but even a put-up luncheon. 

He had small temptation for spending beyond these 
bare necessities for he filled his days and nights with 
hard work. To the immigrant, the English language 
stands the first obstacle. This is especially true of the 
Hungarian. Not that he lacks the gift of tongues; but 
his native language is a world of philology away from 
ours. Springing from a different stock, it “goes at 
things” differently; our vowels, some of our consonants, 
have no exact equivalent in Hungarian. Established in 
the fur trade, Adolph Zukor entered a free public night 
school in Stanton Street, and attended it somewhat 
irregularly during a three-year residence in New York. 
Here, he made acquaintance with the English classics. 
His diamond-hard mind had always a trick of cutting 
through the medium of expression to the idea beneath. 
So Shakespeare and most of the other great English 
poets went past him. Milton and Bunyan, however, 
made a strong impression; perhaps his early rabbinical 
education broke the ground for that. He still has his old 
school copy of PilgrinCs Progress; and at intervals he 


36 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

pores over it, trying to interpret it in terms of the screen. 

“Read the newspapers,” advised his teachers. With 
his alert interest in his new environment, he needed no 
such advice. 

In those days, John L. Sullivan was in his glory. 
Adolph learned from the newspapers and the other ap- 
prentices what this glory meant. Boxing had become a 
craze with the boys of the East Side. One evening after 
work, Adolph put on the gloves in a corridor of the fac- 
tory with another boy of about his own age and size. 
He got, of course, a fine trimming; and the rest of the 
apprentices laughed. Thereupon, he set himself to study 
the art. When his wages rose and he paid back his ar- 
rears of board to the Blaus, his first extravagance was a 
pair of boxing gloves. He practised constantly — in the 
corridors of the factory, in the back yard of the Blau 
house on Ninth Street, even in Tompkins Square near 
by. He was in that flyweight class not yet recognized 
by the authorities; always he must box with bigger boys, 
making up with agility, speed, and cleverness what he 
lacked in bulk. 

One of his opponents had a pretty trick which Adolph 
much admired. Instead of parrying blows always with 
his gloves — as was then the crude fashion — he twisted 
his head sidewise and let his opponent’s fist go harm- 
lessly past his ear. Adolph practised that trick, and the 
appropriate, useful counter to the face. Having no ex- 


CASTLE GARDEN 


37 


pert instructor, he formed the habit of ducking always 
to the right. In a year or so he had started a beautiful 
cauliflower on his left ear. Years later, when appear- 
ances began to have their uses in his life, the surgeons 
did their best to prune it down; but that ear still has a 
curious, flattened extension. 

The fur business was seasonal in those days; fashion 
had not yet conceived the “summer fur.” Its busy sea- 
son began in May and it slackened off nothing before 
Christmas. The journeymen and apprentices had to 
find other employment for the winter and early spring. 
Most of the other apprentices worked during the slack 
season at bottling imported wine. So when Frankel laid 
off its force, Adolph busied himself with piece-work, 
which amounted to three or four dollars a week, in a 
wine cellar on Third Avenue. There were other ways 
of supplementing a small income. Ridley’s Department 
Store in Grand Street needed extra packers and wrap- 
pers on Saturday night. Beginners earned twenty-five 
cents; experts, fifty cents. Mr. Blau got him a regular 
Saturday night job at Ridley’s. Some of the other boys 
in his amorphic boxing club earned twenty or fifty cents 
a night as supers in the melodramas along the Bowery. 
Fascinated by the glitter of the footlights, Adolph ap- 
plied once at the stage door of the London Theatre. But 
the stage manager threw him out of line — he was too 
small for the drama. 


38 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

For the rest, American life as he lived it was that of 
the Tompkins Square gang. They emphasized masculine 
values. No mediaeval monks regarded woman with more 
superiority and contempt. To appear on the streets with 
a girl was a sign of deplorable weakness; at the sight of 
a skirt, one closed his eyes and stilled his fluttering 
heart. When at last a member of the gang “got struck 
on a girl,” he signed his decree of banishment from self- 
respecting masculine society. The only women in Adolph 
Zukor’s life were Mrs. Blau and his elderly female rel- 
atives. 

Sometimes the Blaus went picnicking on Sundays in 
Prospect Park, Brooklyn. This involved a journey of 
two or three hours by horse car or on foot; and it seemed 
to the boy of Tompkins Square like a trek into the re- 
mote wilderness. He went along only for politeness; his 
heart was back with the gang, boxing in the back yards. 
In that period, woods and trees and the out-of-doors 
called up only boresome memories of Ricse with its 
dead, unambitious atmosphere. 

He was drinking the life of the East Side pavements in 
great gulps; loving it, happy in it. “The cheerfulest 
boy I ever knew,” says Max Schosberg, who worked 
at the next bench. “Always singing Hungarian songs. 
Music is all right in its place, understand me, but I told 
him many times to shut up.” 

For once, Adolph Zukor of the creative will was 
drifting on the surface of life. This same Max Schosberg 


CASTLE GARDEN 


39 


relit the fire. A year or so before Adolph, he had landed 
at Castle Garden from Vaszar, Hungary. He was there- 
fore a little more advanced in his knowledge of America 
and the fur business. “It’s a good trade,” said Max, 
“but what is a trade? Get in business for yourself, I 
say.” As soon as he learned enough English, Max hoped 
to take up salesmanship. And presently he had an idea. 

The house of Ederstrom made “novelties” — small 
pieces like stoles, ties, and trimmings. He bought a new 
pelt or two which he and Adolph, working after hours 
in the factory or in their rooms, transformed into fur 
scarves. Max peddled the finished product among the 
small East Side merchants and sold them all. He and 
Adolph divided ten dollars as first profit in this transac- 
tion. As soon as he became a journeyman, Adolph Zukor 
had opened an account in the Dry Dock Savings Bank. 
Now he drew on it for capital to buy more furs. Then 
Max wheedled out of an East Side fur shop an order 
which amounted to a contract. They had insufficient 
money to buy raw furs for an enterprise so ambitious. 
Adolph thereupon borrowed $140 from Blau, his 
landlord, and got the loan of a vacant room in the 
apartment above as a workshop. In the busy season of 
1891, Adolph worked constantly until midnight; and his 
profits from this little whirl at business far exceeded his 
wages. 

Max, however, grew restless. He had friends in 
Chicago. They wrote that the fur business was just 


40 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

getting a start there, Max saw a better opportunity than 
in New York. In the slack season of 1891-92, he pulled 
up stakes and travelled westward. 

With his partner gone, Adolph felt a stirring of new 
adventure. Chicago was working up to the great Colum- 
bian Exposition of 1893. Stories of the preparations filled 
the newspapers. Adolph wanted mightily to see it. Pass- 
ing down Broadway one afternoon, a sign advertising 
cut-rate tickets to Chicago caught his eye. On impulse, 
he went in and inquired the price. It was less than he 
thought. Next week he had resigned from Ederstrom’s, 
closed up his affairs, packed, drawn his account in full 
from the Dry Dock Savings Bank, and in a crawling 
day coach started his second journey into the world. 
He was then nineteen. 


BOOK II 

STRUGGLE 




CHAPTER IV 


NOVELTY FURS 

Chicago, with the wild Northwest at her doors, had 
begun existence as a trading post for furs. It remained 
an important centre for the traffic in raw pelts. However, 
New York, fashion centre for the country, had appro- 
priated to herself the business of working furs into coats, 
boas, muffs, and trimmings. Chicago was struggling to 
establish herself as a competitor. This budding industry 
stood housed in rows of old buildings along the river. 

When he had unpacked his trunk in a Hungarian 
boarding house, Adolph Zukor walked to the fur district 
and made the rounds, looking for a job. His stature 
made him seem even younger than his years. That 
counted against him. On the other hand, he had special 
goods to sell. Until a year or so before, women had 
dressed their throats in winter with simple boas. Then 
Paris or Leipzig sprung a new idea. Taking the pelt of 
any small, long animal — at first always a mink — the fur 
worker dressed it with the tail and front legs intact, and 
affixed a stuffed head whose beady eyes seemed to glare 
reproach at its murderers. That was to be one of the 
longest-lived fancies in modern fashion; it is going yet. 


43 


44 the house that SHADOWS BUILT 

Just at the period when Adolph Zukor became a full- 
fledged journeyman, the mink scarf burst on New York 
like an explosion. Ederstrom had seen the opportunity, 
and during the last six months in New York Adolph 
Zukor did little else than make this new confection. 
Fashions travelled westward rather slowly in those days; 
the rage for mink scarves had just begun to manifest 
itself in Chicago. Workmen who knew the trick were in 
demand. In three different establishments, Adolph got 
a hearing and a chance to demonstrate his skill. All of 
them offered him a place. He chose the one which seemed 
to afford the best prospects, and went to work next 
morning. In negotiating for the job, he had neglected 
to ask one important question — the amount of his 
weekly wage. He thought it most diplomatic to make 
no present inquiries. When his fortnightly pay envelope 
came, it held twenty-four dollars. By moving to Chicago, 
he had raised his wages four dollars a week! 

However, he worked at that bench less than a month. 
For in the meantime, he had found Max Schosberg. And 
Max raved over the commercial opportunities of 
Chicago. Already the World’s Fair had started a boom. 
Also, fur scarves were going to be a rage that season, a 
furore. 

“Let’s set up in business for ourselves,” said Max, 
“you make the stuff and I sell it — same as we did in 
New York.” 

Between them, they had a few hundred dollars of 


NOVELTY FURS 


45 


savings. That would buy pelts enough for a start. 
Further, Max had learned some things about American 
business. “Those banks, now,” he said; “when they 
see a young fellow is bound to get ahead, they will lend 
him money just on his note.” 

The restless and courageous Adolph needed little per- 
suading. Within a week — for they must strike while the 
fur season was on and the scarf still a novelty — they 
had rented a single room in La Salle Street, installed a 
hired sewing machine, employed an operator, and gone 
to work. The young partners made up a few dozen 
sample scarves. Max carried them forth on his shoulder. 
They sold on sight. Before the season ended, their 
Novelty Fur Company made for both Max and Adolph 
a thousand dollars over and above living expenses. 

The slack season of 1893 gave Adolph Zukor the leis- 
ure to visit the World’s Fair. In a little side-show tent 
of the Midway Plaisance flourished the first moving- 
picture show which ever charged admission to the 
public; a crude affair. The perfected moving-picture 
machine of to-day is the compound of many inven- 
tions, the life work of many inventors. In 1889, however, 
Thomas A. Edison had by one of his simple genius- 
touches made practicable the apparatus for taking the 
photographs, and had carried projection to the point 
where he could show the image through a glass slide. 
Projection onto a screen remained only a hazy dream. 
By 1892, he prepared to manufacture commercially his 


46 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

kinetoscope. This device for showing the pictures con- 
sisted of a high box like a fat pillar, into which the spec- 
tator looked through a peep-hole. So postured, he be- 
held, seemingly on a glass plate, a girl doing the skirt 
dance or a man making realistic gestures. Edison in- 
tended to exhibit the kinetoscope at the World’s Fair. 
However, a hitch in manufacturing prevented that. Now 
among the by-paths which branched from the main road 
of this invention was the Anchnitz tachyscope, a device 
even less perfected than the kinetoscope. When its 
owners found that Edison could not get ready in time, 
they set up shop at the Fair. This, too, was a peep-show 
device. Its star actor was an elephant, which walked 
glimmeringly across the tiny field of vision. That was 
wonder enough ! 

I should like to record that young Adolph Zukor saw 
this exhibition and stood thrilled; that the five-cent 
piece he gave up at the door was the initial investment 
which grew into his present fortune. In sober truth, 
he cannot remember whether he saw the tachyscope or 
no. Probably he did not. He had heard of the moving 
picture — yes. However, this America was an exciting 
new world, full of wonders. . . . 

Besides, when spring came to Chicago he had found a 
new interest. The original White Sox were in their glory; 
the town had gone mad over baseball. The boys in 
Tompkins Square made a god of John L. Sullivan. The 
clothing operatives and apprentice clerks in his Hun- 


NOVELTY FURS 


47 


garian boarding house worshipped that less rugged hero, 
“ Pop ” Anson. In Tompkins Square, Adolph had learned 
the Yankee art of throwing and catching; but he had 
never played in a regular game. Now, he took with en- 
thusiasm to vacant-lot baseball. 

! Perhaps it expresses his courage and ambition that he 
chose the hardest position for a man of his pounds and 
inches — catcher. In those days, catching was catching. 
The big mitt or “pud” had just arrived; but the vacant- 
lot teams considered this protection cowardly and effem- 
inate. The catcher trusted to the protection of a skimpy 
mask over his face and a skin-tight, fingerless glove on 
the left hand. Adolph developed a good peg to second, 
and became a Machiavelli at working the pitcher for a 
base on balls. Then one day a foul tip caught him on the 
little finger of the right hand, bending it L-shaped. 
Maturity straightened it out a little, but it is still crook- 
ed. His deft hands formed the best part of his working 
capital; he dared not risk them further. So he transferred 
himself to second base, and found it a position better 
suited to a man of his size and agility. Of summer after- 
noons, he sat sometimes on the bleachers, joining in the 
popular adoration of “ Pop ” Anson and King Kelly. 

As soon as they opened the Novelty Fur Company, 
the partners found one great flaw in their business equip- 
ment. They were still deficient in conversational Eng- 
lish. With retailers who spoke Hungarian and Yiddish, 
Max Schosberg got along splendidly. But when his cus- 


48 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

tomer was an Irishman or a Yankee. . . . “They just 
laugh at me!” complained Max. 

Adolph compared the colloquial English he had ac- 
quired from the gang in Tompkins Square with the 
rules of grammar he had learned in night school. They 
did not match at all. Facing the problem squarely, he, 
Max, and another young Hungarian employed a tutor 
and spent their evenings in vocal gymnastics. Adolph 
Zukor lacks the language faculty. Also, naturally and 
by training his mind goes straight to the heart of a mat- 
ter, extracting the gold, rejecting the slag. To such a 
mind the mode of expression is a mere extraneous detail. 
But since other people set store by this accomplishment, 
let us acquire it. Through many years to come, he was 
to keep up the struggle with our baffling language. Now, 
in his eloquent moment he hits the idea dead-centre 
with the divinely appropriate English word. But coach- 
ing and practice have never quite brushed away his 
native Hungarian accent. 

With the opening of the busy season in 1893, the 
Novelty Fur Company went ahead to a startling minor 
success. Chicago had proved a fortunate location. The 
famous financial depression blighted business over the 
rest of America, but the Fair kept Chicago going. Just 
as the partners had calculated, tourists and sightseers 
from the small towns made their visit to the Fair an 
excuse to do some metropolitan shopping. The demand 


NOVELTY FURS 


49 


for mink scarves continued; and Adolph Zukor — Max 
used to introduce him as “superintendent of our me- 
chanical department” — made the best in Chicago. 

Even before the end of their first year, they had taken 
on extra hands. Now they employed a working force of 
twenty-five men. Adolph designed some fancies of his 
own. These sold, but nothing went so well as his mink 
scarves. The Novelty Fur Company, it seemed, held 
the world in its grasp. If they could do this in Chicago, 
why not elsewhere? Adolph Zukor’s native ambition 
sprang fully awake. He imagined a string of establish- 
ments running from coast to coast. As a beginning, 
the Novelty Fur Company opened a branch in Peoria. 
When the rush season ended, Adolph was pale and thin 
with work and thinking; but he had in the bank eight 
thousand dollars, cold cash. 

There was more yet to come. He and Max Schosberg 
had overlooked the trimmings and leavings of their pelts. 
Hatters buy these as raw material for the “topper.” 
The partners gathered up this accumulation, and Max 
bargained so shrewdly that they divided twelve hun- 
dred dollars. 

Now Max had left a mother in Hungary. Like many 
European mothers, she conceived of America in dime- 
novel terms. Cowboys, bandits, and Indians rode the 
streets, shooting at you. Bears and rattlesnakes bit you. 
Max wrote, to no avail, that Chicago was a fine orderly 


so THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

city like Budapest. Mrs. Schosberg set that down as 
kindly but false reassurance. Her latest letter had be- 
trayed intense mental depression. 

“I’m going to use my share from the trimmings for 
a visit to Mother,” said Max. 

This put an idea into Adolph’s head. Since he ap- 
prenticed himself to the storekeeper at Szanto, he had 
never taken a real vacation. And the future seemed 
secure. “I’ll go along!” he announced. 

By the cheapest possible modes of conveyance, they 
travelled to Budapest. There they separated. Adolph 
Zukor went to Ricse, renewed childhood acquaintances, 
basked in the aura of his success, got first-hand news of 
his brother Arthur. This brilliant young cleric had at- 
tracted so much attention by his learning and eloquence 
that Berlin proposed to keep him. He stood on the thresh- 
old of his great career as a liberal rabbi; and all Jewish 
Ricse expected of him what he afterward fulfilled. 
Adolph drifted back by way of Paris and London, where 
he stopped to see the sights; and, as the busy season 
approached, he reached Chicago a little in advance of 
Max Schosberg. 

The stimulant of a World’s Fair had exhausted its 
effect ; the Lake Region was beginning to feel those pro- 
longed and desperate hard times. Also, the Novelty Fur 
Company had lost its old leadership in mink scarves; its 
greater competitors had learned the trick. And while 
the partners felt round for a saleable novelty to take its 


NOVELTY FURS 


SI 

place, Max had more bad news. His mother had fallen 
ill. Part of the trouble was her anxiety over him. Max 
must return to Hungary. 

The Dual Monarchy was working up to that intensive 
armament which, for two decades before the explosion, 
turned Europe into an armed camp. When Max and 
Adolph made their vacation visit, Hungarian subjects 
who had emigrated before they were seventeen stood 
exempt from military service. Now, Hungary suddenly 
revoked that exception. The apparitors of Franz Josef 
gathered in Max Schosberg. For the time being, Adolph 
Zukor must needs go it alone. 

To finish this part of the business: by 1896, when Max 
Schosberg could return to Chicago, the Novelty Fur 
Company had fallen to the depths and was working 
back toward prosperity. Adolph Zukor, in the course of 
the struggle, had developed new tastes. He liked “out- 
side work” — dealing with customers and wholesale 
houses. To sit in the back room directing the opera- 
tives contented him no longer. Also, Max thought he 
saw a golden opportunity in Peoria. So they dissolved 
partnership, Adolph keeping the Chicago business and 
Max the Peoria branch. They were never associated 
again, though they remained personal friends to the 
end of the chapter. Max Schosberg went on to a com- 
fortable fortune; he is now manager of the fur depart- 
ment at Gimbel’s, New York. “But I wish I had stayed 
with Adolph,” he says. 


52 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

Alone, his own salesman and factory manager, Adolph 
Zukor found the sensational specialty for which he had 
been looking. That was the period of balloon sleeves; 
and Paris had put forth the short fur “shoulder cape,” 
which was selling furiously in New York. Modern 
illustrators, portraying or caricaturing the ’nineties, 
love to hang this garment on the ladies of their pictures; 
it had a touch of the chic and another of the ridiculous. 
The top of it clasped over the high choker collar then in 
fashion; thence it flared out just to the outer and upper 
corner of the exaggerated sleeves. In front it curved like 
a bib across the collarbone. Adolph Zukor experimented 
with the new style until he got the trick. The first sam- 
ples had a ready sale. His next partner said of him 
in after years: “Adolph was always in too much of a 
hurry.” Having picked the fur cape as his winning spe- 
cialty, he gambled all the resources of the Novelty Fur 
Company. Going still further, he borrowed from the 
bank to the limit of his credit. 

It was a short-lived fashion. Before Adolph Zukor 
really started, the vogue was dying out in New York. 
Chicago took it up only to drop it abruptly. Adolph 
Zukor ended his first season as sole manager of the 
Novelty Fur Company with a storehouseful of dead 
stock and a staggering burden of debts. “Go into 
bankruptcy,” advised some of his elders. But he shut 
that trap of a mouth and shook his head. It was not an 
honest way out; it would be a black spot on his record. 


NOVELTY FURS 


S3 


Those were hard times, when backers pressed lightly 
on debtors; the bank agreed to give him a little time on 
his notes. He travelled from creditor to creditor, persuad- 
ing them their best chance of getting their money back 
was to let him go on. The fur business of Chicago had 
regarded with indulgent interest the enterprise of those 
two stripling boys, Schosberg and Zukor. Now that the 
rocket had come down like a stick, “ladies’ furs” re- 
tained some of its indulgence; Zukor found that he had 
friends. He lived small through the slack season, and 
schemed. 

Meantime, having completed five years of American 
residence and come of age, he took out his naturalization 
papers. In 1896, the Democratic National Convention 
met in Chicago, and William Jennings Bryan stampeded 
it to free silver by his famous cross-of-gold speech. 
Adolph Zukor had that day found a seat in the gallery 
of the Coliseum. He heard it, every word. “Bunk!” he 
said, and cast his vote for McKinley. He has voted 
Republican ever since. 


CHAPTER V 


THE SOD HOUSE 

we will leave Adolph Zukor at the end of his 
first defeat — struggling with debts and with the tempta- 
tion to take the easy path of bankruptcy. We must go 
back a decade and trace another thread of life which 
that magical Penny Arcade was to transmute into 
golden wire. 

In 1 88 1, the two Kohn boys, Morris and Samuel, 
emigrated to the United States. Their origins and back- 
ground resembled those of Adolph Zukor. They were 
born and reared in Erdo Benye, another little town of 
the Tokay wine district in Hungary. Time out of mind 
the Kohns had enjoyed modest prosperity as wine- 
growers and wine-makers. In the late ’seventies that 
American plague phyloxera began devastating the 
French vineyards. Irresistibly, it marched eastward to 
blight the Tokay district. One year the Kohns pressed 
and sold their vintage as usual. The next, both crop 
and vines were a smudgy tangle of diseased pulp and 
wood. Even before this calamity, letters from emigrant 
relatives had fired the young imaginations of Morris 
and Samuel with the opportunities of America. On the 
proceeds of a small inheritance, they took steerage and 

S4 


THE SOD HOUSE 


55 


emigrant train, and landed in Chicago with less than 
ten dollars between them. 

One Beifeld, a Hungarian, had founded years before 
a pioneer cloak factory. The establishment remained as 
Hungarian as Szamarodni wine. There the Kohn boys 
got a job and set about learning the trade. They had 
left in Hungary their elder sister Esther, married to a 
vineyard owner named Herman Kaufmann. He, also, 
had lost his modest all in the phyloxera epidemic. “All 
for one and one for all” was the family motto. The 
brothers lived small and sent their savings back to 
Hungary. A year later, the Kaufmann family, including 
their young children, came to Chicago. Morris Kohn, 
always the active and enterprising intelligence of the 
family, had a job waiting for Herman Kaufmann. 
He became a suit-presser at Beifeld’s. 

Still peasant by instinct, the Kohns had the peasant 
hunger for land. The American custom of giving away 
virgin tracts to all comers burst upon them with the 
dazzle of a fairy tale. Just then Dakota — still a terri- 
tory and still undivided — had entered the initial stages 
of American progress. It was enjoying a temporary 
boom, stimulated by the railroads. A few years after- 
ward the boom collapsed, and the Dakotas built on the 
wreckage their permanent and sober prosperity. That 
is the American way. The Kohn boys had entered night 
school and begun to acquire English. Strolling one night 
in the downtown district, Morris Kohn puzzled out a 


S6 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

sign advertising the bonanza crops, the unlimited possi- 
bilities and, above all, the free lands of undeveloped 
northern Dakota. He entered, had a talk with the land 
agent and emerged in a state of dazzled enthusiasm. 
For a mere registration fee, the government would give 
any bona-fide settler one hundred and sixty acres. He 
himself could take up one of these quarter sections. 
So could Sam and Herman and Mrs. Kaufmann, making 
a ranch of six hundred and forty acres in all. That, in 
Hungarian terms, meant the acreage of a great lord. 

For a winter the Kohns and Kaufmanns worked 
and saved and dreamed. By March, 1884, they had be- 
tween them exactly three hundred and eighty dollars. 
In the horse market over by the stockyards, they pur- 
chased the outfit of a discouraged immigrant — a 
rickety covered wagon, a set of mended harness, and 
three scrubby broncos. 

The railroad, by way of encouraging settlers, would 
rent a box car to Devil’s Lake — the northern terminus — 
for sixty dollars. Rapid calculation proved this a 
cheaper way than driving the team. The firm of Kohn 
and Kaufmann hired a car and loaded aboard the 
horses, the wagon, and every stick of household furni- 
ture which they could spare from Chicago. So, travel- 
ling free as horse-traders, Morris Kohn and Herman 
Kaufmann started on the great adventure. Samuel, 
Mrs. Kaufmann, and the children were for the present 
to remain in Chicago, living on Samuel’s wages as a 


THE SOD HOUSE 


S7 

clothing operative. The journey took a week, during 
which the two young adventurers slept shivering on hay 
and ate cold meals. They were young, however, and to 
boys who knew only the manicured fields of Hungary or 
the smoky walls of Chicago, these wide, wind-blown skies 
and unlimited surges of rolling land afforded every 
hour a new and thrilling interest. When more than 
forty years later Morris Kohn told me the story of 
this adventure, he remembered not so much its hard- 
ships as its glories. The green shoots of April were just 
beginning to tinge the northern prairies when they 
pulled into Devil’s Lake. “It looked like a frontier 
town in the movies,” says Morris Kohn. 

Devil’s Lake was up to its neck in the land boom. 
The crowd about the general store welcomed the 
young adventurers as advance guard of a horde which 
before snow flew would make their desert blossom 
like the rose. Even Kohn and Kaufmann’s halting, 
broken English appealed at the moment not to the rough 
Western sense of humour, but to the hearty Western 
admiration for courage and enterprise. An old settler 
stepped forward and offered to guide them to a good 
fertile location which no one had as yet staked out. 
After a hurried consultation in Hungarian, Morris and 
Herman decided to take a chance and accept. They 
bought at the general store the lumber and tar paper 
for a “shack.” Their guide mounted, led them twenty 
miles northward, stopped, and pointed to a beautiful 


58 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BTJILT 

stretch of rolling prairie land traversed by a water 
course. Morris mounted and rode over it. His horse’s 
hoofs threw up black richness. “Here we stay!” he 
said. Before they went to bed in the immigrant wagon 
they had found the government markers which des- 
ignated the first of their four quarter-sections. 

Next morning they set themselves to put up their 
shack. Morris loved mechanics; he had been looking 
forward to that. They had staked out the horses to spare 
timbers and let them graze. But spring in South Dakota 
was more backward than they thought. The new shoots of 
grass made poor pickings. So at about noon Herman 
Kaufmann mounted, rode three miles to the nearest 
habitation, and bought a load of hay for immediate 
delivery. Just at dusk, when they were nailing into 
place the last length of tar paper, the hay arrived. 

Now they had in their string a half-broken bronco 
with a talent for trouble. When the hay wagon came 
creaking over the hill he took that excuse to snort, rear, 
and bolt, dragging the timber. His tether pulled loose. 
And the other horses caught the contagion as horses 
will. They, too, pulled their ropes loose from the timbers. 
Morris and Herman ran after them. The horses coquet- 
ted with their pursuers, stopping to graze, and then 
when the chase came close, galloping away again. So it 
went, mile after mile across the trackless prairie while 
a clear, dark night settled down and a cold wind, spring- 


THE SOD HOUSE 


59 

ing up from the north, stabbed the throats and arms of 
the two young adventurers — for they had been work- 
ing in their shirt sleeves. At last they glimpsed a light 
in the distance. Morris and Herman managed to start a 
stampede in that direction. The horses stopped under a 
haystack; but when the pursuers approached them with 
fair words, they still shied and ran. Morris groped his 
way to the farmhouse, threw himself on the mercies of 
the farmer. This experienced Westerner tried to catch 
the runaways, and failed as dismally as the two green- 
horns. Finally, he turned his own horses out to feed on 
the haystack. That quieted the Kaufmann-Kohn bron- 
cos; he laid hands on them at last. Morris interviewed 
the farmer on the lay of the land. He recognized their 
location; they were about ten miles from home. 

They mounted two of the horses bareback, guiding 
them by looped halters, and led the other. The night 
was turning bitterly cold, and they were still in their 
shirt sleeves. Having learned their horsemanship in 
temperate Hungary, they underestimated the hardi- 
hood of the Western bronco; through chattering teeth, 
Morris and Herman exchanged their fears that the 
horses would freeze their legs. So they travelled for 
hours, but no shape of a hill in the darkness seemed to 
resemble their quarter-section. It grew colder. Morris 
remembered seeing buffalo wallows all over the region; 
these would afford some shelter against that nipping 


6o THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


wind. Leaving Herman to hold the horses, he went ex- 
ploring — and pitched over the edge of a wallow not a 
hundred yards away. Into this they led the horses and 
trotted solemnly round and round all night. At the first 
streak of dawn Morris climbed the nearest hill for an 
observation. Two or three miles away he spied the shack 
and barn of a nester. Thither they rode. Roused, this 
settler gave their horses room in his warm barn, bedded 
down the partners for a two-hour sleep before his fire, 
shared his morning coffee. 

“Well, nothing much happened that afternoon,” says 
Morris Kohn. “But next day — what a day!” The 
partners were unpacking, setting things to rights. While 
Morris started experiments with clearing land, Herman 
made the cabin shipshape. A tin of kerosene had spilled 
into their metal water pail. Herman, by way of cleaning 
it out, set the inside of the pail afire, and poured out the 
burning mixture onto the ground. It ignited last year’s 
dry grass. In two minutes the prairie was on fire. Morris, 
sununoned by his partner’s yells, joined in the fight 
to put it out. It was too late. And the wind was carrying 
it down onto their shack — already the tar paper had 
caught fire. Seizing the axe and sledge, they knocked 
their frail habitation to pieces and threw the boards 
and timbers across the line of flame to the unburned 
windward area. That sinister plume of smoke attracted 
the attention of the experienced neighbour three miles 
away. He rode to join them. But the fire had a start 


THE SOD HOUSE 


6i 


by now; it seemed that the whole prairie was gone. 
They had abandoned hope when rain began to fall. It 
turned in an hour to snow, to a belated blizzard. 

Now that the weather had intervened to save him, 
the neighbour took the adventures of the greenhorns 
as a joke and offered them a haven for the night in his 
barn. Next morning Morris and Herman drove through 
the snow to Devil’s Lake, bought more tar paper, and 
incidentally filed their claims. Then they rebuilt the 
shack. 

After this lively first week, there were no more acci- 
dents or incidents. They built a sod house in the side of a 
hill, broke forty acres, and planted it in potatoes. The 
bank, they found, was lending money to bona-fide set- 
tlers. So they went into debt for the price of agricultural 
machinery and a cow. In the late summer Mrs. Kauf- 
mann and the children came on from Chicago. The po- 
tatoes, the cow, and Samuel’s steady remittances kept 
them alive through that winter. 

Meantime, Morris Kohn found a way to supplement 
the family income. All this time, Indians were drifting 
back and forth down the trails, bringing furs; Morris 
mentioned this fact in his letters to Samuel. Thereupon 
Samuel and a friend in the fur trade raised a little 
money and sent it to Morris, together with some expert 
information on qualities and prices. Through a tempera- 
ture that sank sometimes to ten degrees below zero, 
Morris drove their single farm wagon into the Turtle 


62 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


Mountains and, sleeping in tepees or in the wagon- 
bed, trafficked with the Indians and the half-breed 
trappers. He bought red fox pelt, muskrat hides, bear- 
skins. His modest profits helped in the purchase of 
ploughs, harrows, tools, and domestic supplies. 

This transaction is like the first moment of impulse 
in a drama. Unconsciously, Morris Kohn had entered 
the fur business. That would lead as by magic guidance 
to his meeting with Adolph Zukor, to the Penny Arcade 
in New York and the transformation of the moving 
picture. . . . 


CHAPTER VI 


BACK TO CHICAGO 

aAs SOON as the frost was out of the ground, Morris and 
Herman began working sixteen hours a day at breaking 
land. Those two inexperienced men alone accomplished 
that season the superhuman task of planting nearly a 
quarter-section in wheat. Under the suns and rains of a 
good crop year, it flourished mightily. The stalks grew 
as high as a man’s shoulder, and they were “heading 
up” to plump richness. The partners sat in the sod 
house by night, figuring in the illumination of a gutter- 
ing candle. The profits would set them more than even 
with the world. Next year they would plant the whole 
section. It was a bonanza ! 

And in the first week of August, down from the 
Arctic came a premature frost. It blasted the wheat; 
turned the golden ears to filthy black pellets. . . . 

They stood the blow as best they could. Samuel kept 
up his remittances from Chicago. But interest and press- 
ing debts used up all that money, and the family in the 
sod house must live. Morris went out to find work for 
the winter. A company of gentleman farmers from 
Canada had taken up an area near by and begun an 
ambitious programme of building.They employed Morris 

63 


64 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

as a carpenter and, when his talent with tools became 
manifest, paid him the usual wages of thirty dollars a 
month and board. After the northern frosts made car- 
pentry impossible, he did a little more trading with 
the Indians in the Turtle Mountains, and acquired a 
little more education in furs. Next year, the partners 
broke no more land. That would take money; and they 
had reached the end of their credit. They harvested 
part of a crop. But the profit just carried them through 
the winter; they were not gaining on the debt. And the 
premature North Dakota boom, punctured by that 
early frost of the year before, was beginning to collapse. 
Morris Kohn took stock with himself. This promised to 
be a long struggle. He could make more immediate 
money in Chicago than in Dakota; and it was the 
American city rather than the American country which 
offered chances to an ambitious boy. He and Herman 
Kaufmann saw their creditors in Devil’s Lake and got 
promise of more time on accounts and notes. 

Next week, Morris Kohn was back at his machine in 
Beifeld’s factory. He told his tale to the Boss, who ad- 
mired the pluck of the performance. “ How much do you 
and Herman owe up there?” asked Beifeld. Morris 
Kohn told him. “All right,” said the Boss, “I’ll pay 
your debts, and you can give me a third of your wages 
until you’ve cleared it off.” On these terms, Morris 
Kohn retired from the business of farming. 

That is the story as Morris Kohn tells it. The Kauf- 


BACK TO CHICAGO 


65 

mann side of this epic is more picturesque and more 
tragic. One of the little boys died in that sod house by 
the water hole; the baby, nineteen months old. He de- 
veloped convulsions. Herman, riding like mad across 
the prairie, was sixteen hours in finding the doctor and 
twelve hours more in getting him to the claim. At that, 
the doctor was drunk. “ But he was just as good drunk 
as sober,” says one of the Kaufmanns cryptically. When 
he arrived, the baby was dead. Herman and Morris 
made a coffin out of pine boards and Mrs. Kaufmann 
sewed a shroud. They laid him away at the summit of 
their hill. Their little private graveyard, they have 
heard since, has become the Jewish burying ground for 
that region of North Dakota. During the six years 
of the Kaufmann tenure on this pioneer farm, Mrs. 
Kaufmann gave birth to two babies, A1 and Julie. They 
appeared before Herman could bring the midwife from 
Devil’s Lake. 

Other episodes have a livelier colour. Mrs. Kaufmann 
was no sooner settled in the sod house than a band of 
Sioux Indians squatted in a ring about the door. Silent, 
with intent beady eyes, they watched her cooking. 
The men were out of calling distance. Taking the only 
means she could think of to avert a massacre, Mrs. 
Kaufmann gave them a batch of fresh cookies. They ate, 
grunted, rose, departed. More Indians came. Always 
the terrified Mrs. Kaufmann fed them; and always they 
departed in peace. Whenever she saw the dust of 


66 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


dragging tepee poles down the road, she rushed to the 
stove and started a fire. But next spring, when the 
Indians came out of winter quarters for their hunting, 
that original band stopped at her door and with cordial 
grunts gave her a freshly killed antelope and some 
skins to wrap her babies in — present for present. Then 
she began better to understand them; even to like them. 

Once, after she had fed a band of these self-invited 
guests, a squaw lingered behind. She did not seem well. 
Mrs. Kaufmann gave her a cup of hot tea. She thanked 
her hostess with her eyes, rose, disappeared in the direc- 
tion of the barn. Mrs. Kaufmann supposed that she had 
gone. But an hour later she reentered, carrying in her 
blanket a new-born papoose. She accepted another cup 
of tea, picked up her baby, and hurried on after the 
train. . . . 

One night three men rode up with a fusilade of hoofs, 
knocked imperatively at the door, and asked for food. 
Her men were away. Mrs. Kaufmann, shaking with ter- 
ror, cooked coffee and bacon. Two of the invaders ate 
at the table, and then one carried his rations to a third 
who stayed outside riding herd on a band of horses. 
They offered to pay. Mrs. Kaufmann, who had learned 
frontier manners, refused the money. They laid it 
emphatically on the table, rose, and drove the horses 
away. At dawn, another knocking at the door. This 
time the front yard was filled with mounted and armed 
men who demanded to know if any strangers had come 


BACK TO CHICAGO 


67 

that way. Her midnight guests were horse thieves, 
making their way with a stolen band to the safety of the 
Canadian border. Mrs. Kaufmann was glad to learn, 
a week later, that they had made their escape, for she 
had seen in the hands of the posse the noosed rope, all 
greased and ready. . . . 

The Kaufmanns acquired a little string of cattle. 
Ninna and Lottie, the two eldest, were now lively little 
grigs, playing dolls with the Indian girls and riding 
like vaqueros. There were nights when the temperature 
fell to thirty degrees below zero and the earth snapped 
with sharp explosions and the cattle drifted before the 
blizzard wind. Ninna and Lottie would ride forth to 
round up the herd and drive it to shelter while Mrs. 
Kaufmann guided them by swinging a lantern on the 
end of a pole. 

Four or five years of this, and the Kaufmanns took 
stock. . . . They had the section broken now; possessed 
barns and machinery. But the girls were growing up; 
all winter the two eldest rode ten miles to school 
on the same bronco. This was the consideration 
that drew the Kaufmanns finally from North Dakota. 
Her experience with the horse rustlers had shown Mrs. 
Kaufmann what kind of characters haunted those 
frontier roads. Also the Indians, finding their hunting 
grounds invaded and ruined, were growing sullen. 
Hours before Ninna and Lottie came loping over the 
crest of their hill in the afternoon shadows, Mrs. 


68 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


Kaufmann found herself straining her eyes at the 
horizon. She and Herman Kaufmann pondered on other 
things. All her daughters were growing up beautiful; 
they would marry some day, of course. And into what 
. . . farm drudgery. . . . 

So after six years of rough pioneering, the Kaufmanns 
pulled up stakes and moved back to Chicago, where 
Herman reentered the clothing business. They had 
three daughters by now. Two of them, Ninna and 
Lottie, were bom in Hungary; Julie had first seen the 
light in that sod house. Frances, the baby of the 
family, came after they moved back to the city. All 
these daughters were to marry well — exceptionally well 
— giving their pioneer mother a serene and happy old 
age. Of their two remaining sons, the eldest died soon 
after their removal. But A1 Kaufmann survived to 
enter the nobility of the moving picture. 

Meantime, Morris Kohn had climbed out of the mck. 
At about the time when he finished paying off his debt 
to Beifeld, he turned his attention to the cumbersome 
cutting machine with which his shop formed the raw 
shapes of men’s garments. It was an unsatisfactory 
instrument. Morris glowed always to mechanics. Stitch- 
ing at his table, he conceived a revolutionary improve- 
ment. With his first savings, he got his device patented. 
Tried out at Beifeld’s, it worked beautifully. Raising a 
little capital on his prospects, Morris Kohn journeyed 
to New York and put his invention on the market. 


BACK TO CHICAGO 69 

Scarcely had he made his first sale, when he discovered 
that another clothing worker had patented an attach- 
ment better and more practical than his own. This 
rival, however, was holding out for high prices. Morris 
shrewdly adopted the contrary policy — quick sales 
and small profits while the bonanza lasted. When busi- 
ness slowed up, he sold his rights, returned to Chicago, 
invested his winnings in the clothing industry. But his 
early trading among the Sioux had given him an instinct 
for furs and some training in assessing the quality of 
pelts. Inevitably, perhaps, he drifted toward that busi- 
ness. Ten years after he abandoned the homestead in 
South Dakota, he had become a highly successful broker 
in raw furs, dealing not only with Chicago but with 
New York, St. Louis, the Northwest, and even London. 
Meantime, he had married a sister of Emil Shauer, who 
will figure later as a character in this story. 


CHAPTER VII 


A MARRIAGE AND A 
PARTNERSHIP 

Generally, his male acquaintances of old years can- 
not remember when or where they first met Adolph 
Zukor. He was so insignificant of stature, so reserved of 
manner, that the beholder paid him only passive at- 
tention — until some flash of shrewd insight or of com- 
mon sense awoke the realization that here stood a man. 
With women, I fancy, it was different. For his face was 
virile but comely; now, when he has passed fifty, it 
retains in some aspects a great beauty. Even his cameo 
of a figure must have appealed to the mother in them. 
However, Adolph Zukor, in the year when he stood to 
his neck in debts of the vanished Novelty Fur Company, 
was not interested in the ladies. He still held the attitude 
of the Tompkins Square gang. After a hard week of 
struggle with his perplexities, he spent Saturday and 
Sunday hopping round second base; on one side of his 
nature prematurely a man of affairs and on the other, 
still a boy. 

The first meeting between him and Morris Kohn 
remains an exception to this rule. Morris remembers it 
vividly. Keeping touch with the gossip of the fur busi- 

70 


A MARRIAGE AND A PARTNERSHIP 71 

ness as a broker must, he had heard of those two mere 
boys, Schosberg and Zukor, who had built up that suc- 
cessful little Novelty Fur Company and gone aground 
on the reefs of the shoulder cape. Kohn did not take the 
temporary embarrassment seriously; he understood that 
a business dealing with the caprices of fashion has its 
necessary ups and downs, its spectacular losses and 
gains. So when a customer offered one day to bring in 
Adolph Zukor and introduce him, Morris Kohn listened. 

“I don’t want to do business with him, of course,” 
said Morris Kohn; “I’m playing for the big fellows, not 
the small fry. But fetch him along. I’d like to have a 
look at him.” 

Zukor had not sat for five minutes in the office before 
Morris Kohn, who thinks largely and widely himself, 
began to recognize a kindred spirit. In half an hour, 
Zukor was confessing his ragged financial condition. 
In an hour, Morris Kohn, remembering the lift that 
Beifeld had given him when he himself came back from 
North Dakota loaded with debts, was jotting down 
figures on a scratch pad. Kohn knew of odd contracts 
available for that little, distressed factory down in 
Market Street. Also, there were means of liquidating 
some of the dead stock. This sensible and plucky 
youth who refused to take the easy way of bankruptcy 
appealed more and more to Morris Kohn. When they 
parted, he found that he had laid out a whole plan of 
campaign. 


72 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

On an upper floor of the building where Kohn dis- 
played his pelts, flourished a dealer in odd lots. Kohn 
knew nothing ill of him. At Kohn’s suggestion, this 
man took over some of Zukor’s stock and arranged to 
dispose of it on commission. A few days later, Adolph 
Zukor came into Kohn’s office with all his temper blaz- 
ing — in a murderous mood. A friend had revealed to 
him the situation in that storehouse up above. The 
odd-lot broker was crooked. He intended, apparently, 
to sell off Zukor’s stock, pocket all the receipts, and 
trust to the principle that possession is nine points of 
the law. Only that week he had sold three hundred and 
eighty-five dollars’ worth of these goods; and when 
Adolph had asked for an accounting, he had reported 
“no sales.” 

Morris Kohn called up a few acquaintances on the 
telephone, asked some pointed questions. He had 
leaped before he looked; the man had a slippery rep- 
utation. Adolph Zukor, raging in the corner, was 
alternately for physical violence and for going to the 
law. 

“ It will do you no good to beat him up,” said Morris 
Kohn, “and a lawsuit will cost you more than they’re 
worth. I have an idea.” 

Ignatz, the office boy in that crooked loft above, had 
worked for Morris Kohn, owed him a good turn. Morris 
Kohn lingered in the hall until Ignatz came downstairs. 

“ Kid,” he said, “would you mind staying round your 


A MARRIAGE AND A PARTNERSHIP 73 

shop for an hour or so after the boss goes home ? I may 
want to call to-night — but don’t tell him that.” 

The shrewd Ignatz, it appeared, had perceived the 
true nature of that business upstairs, and was getting 
ready to resign. He needed but little persuasion. As 
soon as the proprietor was safely gone, Morris Kohn 
and Adolph Zukor invaded the establishment. An 
expert in precious stones can tell every diamond in the 
world from every other. A trained shepherd can pick 
out, from a bunch of three thousand, any sheep at 
which he has once taken a good look. By that same 
trade sense, the fur man knows any individual pelt or 
piece. Adolph Zukor went through the loft identifying 
his own stock. He, Morris Kohn, and Ignatz gathered 
it up, carried it down to Kohn’s wareroom. Adolph 
counted and calculated. There was missing exactly 
three hundred and eighty-five dollars’ worth. The odd- 
lot broker had made only the one sale. 

Next morning Kohn and Zukor came early to the 
office. They heard the broker mount the stairs, heard 
him burst into the hall yelling that he had been robbed. 
“No, you haven’t,” cried Morris Kohn. “Come here!” 

A third of a century later, Morris Kohn told me the 
rest of the story. 

“Well, we were both young fellows,” he said, “and 
young fellows like the rough stuff. I backed him into 
the comer and got hold of his throat. It must have been 
funny — like Weber and Fields. I was choking him with 


74 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

my hands and keeping Adolph off by kicking backward 
with my feet. I didn’t know what Adolph might do if 
I let him in.”. 

When Morris Kohn at last relaxed his hold, the broker 
was glad to draw a check for three hundred and eighty- 
five dollars. Then Morris stood guard over him while 
Adolph ran to the bank and got the money in spot cash. 
So much for that ! 

One Sunday afternoon in the period when he was 
struggling back to a small solvency, Adolph Zukor 
went out Cottage Grove Avenue to see Morris Kohn on 
business. Morris, the maid informed him, had gone driv- 
ing with a niece who was visiting at the house. In the 
meantime, Adolph spied a scrub game of baseball in a va- 
cant lot next door. He vaulted the fence, begged a job at 
second base, took off his coat, and plunged into the fray. 

Presently, Morris came along with the second daugh- 
ter of Herman Kaufmann — his brother-in-law and his 
partner in the adventure of the North Dakota home- 
stead. Lottie Kaufmann had fulfilled that promise of 
beauty which was one consideration drawing her parents 
back to Chicago. Slender, dark-eyed, with an exquisite 
skin and a pleasant wit, she had suitors a-plenty. When 
first she set eyes on her future husband, he was fielding 
a grounder. Between innings, Morris introduced them. 
The incident made so little impression upon Adolph 
Zukor that he has forgotten it; and to Lottie Kauf- 


AIMARRIAGE AND A PARTNERSHIP 75 

mann he was just another man. But one evening in the 
same week, Adolph called on Morris Kohn with a busi- 
ness perplexity. The household was playing cards. They 
invited him to join; and Adolph Zukor left the table 
violently in love with Lottie Kaufmann. 
i- It was a slow wooing, for Adolph Zukor had many 
rivals; and uneventful on the surface. Morris Kohn and 
Herman Kaufmann thought for a long time that Adolph 
frequented their houses just to play cards with them. 
The shrewd Mrs. Kaufmann first suspected his deeper 
intentions. He seemed at the moment the least promis- 
ing of all Lottie’s suitors — this boy protege of her 
brother with his childish baseball and his embarrassing 
burden of debt. But Mrs. Kaufmann had not struggled 
through the hard years of her Dakota homestead with- 
out acquiring some insight into men. Under the quiet 
but pleasant surface of this comely, clean-chiselled boy, 
she perceived the fires of power. Subtly — as is the way 
of mothers — she became his advocate with her daughter. 
Somehow, the state of affairs dawned on the family, 
i Although she kept that to herself, the attractive 
Lottie was agreeing with her mother. Presently the 
whole interested group understood that Lottie and 
Adolph intended to get married when and if Adolph 
pulled even with the world and reached the position to 
support a wife. Morris Kohn, the most successful mem- 
ber of the family, had taken the affair in hand; and so 
he ruled. 


76 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

By now, through piece-work and odd jobs, Adolph 
had paid all his debts except that to the bank; and busi- 
ness was picking up. With the backing and endorsement 
of Morris Kohn, he tried a new enterprise. It involved 
risk, but “Nothing venture nothing have” was almost 
the first motto he learned in English. Adolph moved 
his establishment to an upper story in State Street. 
On the ground floor was a silk shop. Zukor hired space 
before its front windows for a show case displaying an 
array of his own fur novelties. Chief of these was a 
double stone-martin scarf. It differed from the single 
scarf through which the Novelty Fur Company had 
made its initial success in that it had two heads: one 
over each shoulder. The fashion budded and blossomed, 
as that for the shoulder cape had budded and withered. 
In a month or so, Adolph Zukor found it necessary to 
enlarge his working quarters. Before the end of that 
season, he had discharged his debt to the bank, was 
running ahead of the world. 

i And so on January lo, 1897, Adolph and Lottie went 
to the Temple with the whole Kaufmann family, even 
to the remotest cousin; and Max Schosberg came from 
Peoria to stand up as best man. 

In the month before the marriage, Morris Kohn 
revealed a plan which he had revolved for some time in 
his head. Manufacturing, he believed, was the profitable 
department of the fur business. He had long wanted to 
enter it, but he lacked experience. Adolph could bring 


A MARRIAGE AND A PARTNERSHIP 77 

that experience, and more. His circle recognized him as 
the cleverest young designer in Chicago. Therefore, 
Morris Kohn proposed a partnership — he to furnish 
most of the working capital and the judgment of raw 
furs, Adolph Zukor to supply the technique. Con- 
temporaneously with the wedding, they formed the 
firm of Kohn & Company, manufacturing furriers. 

The newly married couple established themselves in a 
flat on the West Side. Presently, things were going so 
well that without taking chances on the future they 
could employ a maid. It was only eight years since 
Adolph Zukor, his apprenticeship at Szalka expired, 
jingled in his pocket the first silver coins that he could 
ever call his own. At about the same period, Lottie 
Kaufmann was crawling back to Chicago from that sod 
house in Dakota. Such is the magic of America! The 
future seemed to stretch ahead gloriously secure. Some 
day, Adolph Zukor was going to be a big man in the fur 
business. Imagination leaped no higher than that. 

Though once, imagination seemed for a moment to 
pierce the mists. It was four years since Adolph Zukor, 
visiting the World’s Fair, breezed by that little side 
show which held the crude tachyscope moving picture 
of a walking elephant. Edison, as I have said, intended 
to exhibit his motion-picture machine at the Fair, but 
his mechanics and partners did not get the parts ready 
in time. In 1894, however, his company put out on the 
market his kinetoscope,a peep-show device. You dropped 


78 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

a coin into the tall box, applied your eye to the little 
black chute, and a picture which seemed about half as 
big as an average book page performed for nearly a 
minute. The subjects appealed not so much to the 
emotions of the beholder as to his sense of wonder at the 
marvels of science. Two girls — one of them afterward 
famous as Ruth St. Denis — did a life-like skirt dance. 
A pranksome boy shook pepper before a man at a desk; 
he sneezed in a life-like manner. By the end of that year, 
the original Edison Kinetoscope Parlours had opened: 
the first on Broadway, the second in Masonic Temple, 
Chicago, the third — Baccigalupi’s — on Market Street, 
San Francisco. 

Events began to move more swiftly. Two adventurous 
brothers named Latham saw the kinetoscope on Broad- 
way; and, being sporting characters, conceived the idea 
of a moving-picture prize fight. They matched Mike 
Leonard and Jack Cushing, second-raters. It took. 
Thereupon they arranged the “great Corbett-Courtney 
fight,” between the champion of the world and an ob- 
scure sparring partner. This went six one-minute rounds 
to a real knockout. As the kinetoscope showed it, the 
spectator dropped another nickel at the end of each round. 

Going on, the Lathams conceived the idea of moving 
pictures on a screen instead of in a peep-hole; with the 
help of their father. Mayor Woodville Latham, they de- 
vised a crude projector to produce that result. And in 
April, 1895, they showed their pictures to the press of 


A MARRIAGE AND A PARTNERSHIP 79 

New York. Thomas A. Edison, interviewed next day on 
the subject of this new sensation, called the Lathams 
infringers of his patents. As for projecting moving pic- 
tures onto a screen — he had done that himself. ‘‘But 
there’s no commercial future in it,” said Edison. Next 
month the Lathams opened on Broadway the first real 
screen show. The programme included Carmencita, the 
dancer, and a brief episode of a boy teasing a man on a 
park bench. 

Little by little, such inventors as Armat, Woodville 
Latham, and Edison in America, Paul and Lumiere in 
Europe, were improving that imperfect instrument, the 
projector. By 1896, Thomas A. Edison, persuaded 
tardily that the screen was the thing, had put out his new 
machine, the “vitascope”; and Lumiere had devised for 
France a projection even better. 

That same year, vaudeville saw the possibilities of 
the screen. In April, Koster and BiaTs Music Hall at 
Herald Square, New York, ended its programmes with a 
vitascope show; the subjects included a fragment of 
Hoyt’s farce, A Milk-White Flag, a pair of dancing girls, 
and the surf breaking against the chalk cliffs of Dover. 
It shared the honours of the theatrical week with Albert 
Chevalier, who made his first American appearance on 
the same programme. A little later, Vitascope added a 
street scene in Herald Square, The Arrival of the Black 
Diamond Express, and a parade of the New York mount- 
ed police. Lumiere’s cinematograph, which had similarly 


8o THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

broken into vaudeville in London, presented as a further 
step a comic scene of a man watering with a hose in a 
garden, and a mischievous boy so managing things that 
the water squirted into the man’s face. . . . For the col- 
lection and correlation of these facts, I am indebted — as 
every other historian of the screen must forever be — 
to Terry Ramsaye, moving-picture journalist. While the 
pioneers were still alive, he spent years of painstaking 
and expensive investigation in getting for his Million 
and One Nights the exact truth about these early, ob- 
scure beginnings. 

Then the screen took a timid step toward drama. May 
Irwin had just made a great success with The Widow 
Jones. In this comedy, John C. Rice kissed her long and 
unctuously while his partner in bliss talked out of the 
corner of her generous mouth. All America was talking 
of the May Irwin Kiss. Vitascope purchased from 
Miss Irwin the right to immortalize this bit on the film, 
and put out the product over the Orpheum circuit. The 
early projectors were so made that any scene could be 
at once repeated. And audiences in the vaudeville houses 
used to encore The Kiss six or seven times. 

Adolph Zukor remembers that in 1905 or thereabout 
he saw the signs of the old Edison kinetoscope in 
Masonic Temple, entered, invested a nickel in a view of 
the new wonder. But it produced so little impression 
that he does not now remember what he saw. Then, in 
the period when he and Lottie Kaufmann were awaiting 


A MARRIAGE AND A PARTNERSHIP 8i 


their wedding day, he took her to Hopkins Theatre. The 
show ended with the May Irwin Kiss. This perfect rep- 
resentation of human beings, bigger than life and mov- 
ing as in life, lit a fire in his imagination. He was work- 
ing mightily at that period. The next night he went back 
to the shop after dinner, intending to spend the whole 
evening over a design. But toward nine o’clock he closed 
up and went again to the theatre — drawn irresistibly 
by that fascinating marvel. There, however, it all ended 
for the time being. The seed so planted was to lie un- 
germinate for seven more years. 


CHAPTER VIII 


ZUKOR BECOMES A SHOWMAN 

T HE firm of Kohn & Company, manufacturing furriers, 
struggled through a first year of adjustment where- 
in profits were small and uncertain, and then went 
forward to a reasonably large success. By the end of the 
century, Morris Kohn had yielded to the importunities 
of his partner — “always in a hurry” — and opened a New 
York branch. Thenceforth, Morris lived a great deal on 
limited trains between New York and Chicago. Older 
and better skilled in English than Adolph Zukor, he 
played the part of “outside man.” He saw customers, 
bargained for raw material, presided at the front of the 
shop. Zukor, with his talent for design, served mostly 
behind the scenes as superintendent of production. 

The Eastern branch did well. And at about the turn of 
the century, the partners hatched an idea. New York 
was strengthening its position as fashion centre for the 
United States; the West merely confirmed styles which 
the metropolis had elected six months before. In Chicago 
one must needs gamble in his buying; guess a season 
ahead what material was going to be fashionable. In 
New York, on the contrary, one could get his orders 
with the first turn of the fashion and then buy his ma- 

82 


ZUKOR BECOMES A SHOWMAN 83 

terials as needed. So Adolph Zukor moved to New 
York, and put their establishment in Twelfth Street 
near Broadway on a factory basis. Morris Kohn re- 
mained behind to close up the Chicago business, and then 
followed. 

Zukor had by now two children : Eugene and Mildred. 
They found a comfortable flat at the corner of One Hun- 
dred and Eleventh Street and Seventh Avenue, a district 
which was then a German and Jewish quarter. 

Marcus Loew lived on the opposite corner. To Zukor, 
he was then merely a passing business acquaintance; 
Morris Kohn knew him better. Loew, who began life as 
a newsboy on the East Side, had drifted like Zukor into 
the fur trade; had branched out as a salesman. Finally 
he set up for himself as a broker in raw furs. His sales 
route took him West, where he came into competition 
with Morris Kohn. These lively and able rivals first met 
in a St. Paul hotel. 

‘‘I was registering at seven o’clock in the morning,” 
says Kohn, “when the clerk told me that another fur 
salesman, named Loew, had a room. I went up at once, 
for I wanted a look at him. He was packing to catch a 
train and — at that hour in the morning — he was wearing 
a top hat and a fur-lined coat. He must have noticed me 
staring at the hat, for he winked and said, ‘ I wear ’em 
to impress ’em.’” 

Twice, on a bad turn of the fashion, Loew had gone 
down to the edge of bankruptcy. Now he was climbing 


84 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

back again. Zukor and Kohn used habitually to meet 
him at the old Hotel St. Denis for a good luncheon and 
a good laugh — Loew was the wit of his circle. Also, from 
the windows of his apartment, Marcus Loew’s little 
son Arthur used sometimes to wave at a baby in the 
Zukor window across the street. Coached by her mother, 
Mildred Zukor would wave back. . . . These were her 
first exchanges of courtesy with her future husband. 

Then rose another of those crises which have spotted 
Adolph Zukor’s fortunes. The plan for conquering New 
York was not new or original. Other firms waited for 
the verdict of fashion before beginning to buy raw stock, 
“as needed.” Thereupon, owing to the demand, the 
price of the favourite fur would shoot upward until it 
afforded a narrow margin of profit or no profit at all. 
In New York, as in Chicago, one must guess at the 
trend six months ahead; must gamble. Adolph Zukor, 
feeling himself crowded again toward the wall, plunged 
into one of his spasms of hard, concentrated work. He 
used to bring raw furs home at night and stitch out 
designs until Mrs. Zukor drove him to bed. 

Eugene Zukor’s definite memories of childhood date 
from this time. “Our house always smelled of fur,” he 
says. “And I used to wish that Dad would get into some 
other business. Even now. I’m physically uncomfortable 
in a fur shop!” 

However, by work, economy, and shrewdness, Kohn 
& Company pulled without much loss through that 


ZUKOR BECOMES A SHOWMAN 


85 

first hard year. Next season, following the custom and 
necessity of their business, they gambled — on red fox. 
The wheel of fashion turned, and the little ball dropped 
into the pocket opposite their stake. Red fox became a 
sensation. By 1904, Kohn & Company, though not a 
big firm, enjoyed a reputation for soundness and stabil- 
ity. Especially it had an A-i rating with the banks. Now, 
Adolph Zukor was worth between one and two hundred 
thousand dollars. 

Enter then into his life a current which sprang from 
remote sources. 

The populace of these United States had not found as 
yet any suitable and darling form of amusement. The 
ten- twenty- and thirty-cent shocker was repeating it- 
self. In those days, Owen Davis used to write a new 
melodrama in two weeks; allowing for vacations and 
pauses to conduct rehearsals, he fathered twenty a year. 

“How did you ever keep up such a pace.?” a writing 
woman inquired of him years later. 

“Why not? I had a good plot!” responded Davis. 

Nervously the herd was flocking to new, glittering 
enterprises which attracted but failed to satisfy. Nerv- 
ously, showmen and managers were reaching for the 
formula which ever eluded them. Fred Thompson and 
“Skip” Dundy, a mechanical genius and a shrewd 
business man, achieved a great success at the Buffalo 
World’s Fair with their glorified scenic roller coaster, 
“A Trip to the Moon.” They went on to build Luna 


86 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


Park at Coney Island, New York: a demesne of amuse- 
ment whose governing principle was mechanical fan- 
tasy. This gave impulse to the amusement parks which 
had already sprung up over the United States. These 
establishments, however, were a little expensive to the 
consumer. Ten cents for this and twenty-five for that 
mount up to quite a figure; especially when the spender 
is a working man taking his family for a day’s outing. 

There was another limitation. Terry Ramsaye says 
wisely, “The populace loves to believe.” That was later 
to stand a governing principle of the moving-picture 
business; though few, even while applying it, understood 
the principle. And a voyage by roller coaster through the 
Caves of the Moon, with dwarfed inhabitants singing 
curious wailing music through the copper-red foliage, 
aroused the intellectual impulse of wonder but not the 
emotion of belief. 

r All this time the formula lay wrapped up and ad- 
dressed at the very feet of the showmen and managers; 
but they never saw it. During the years when Kohn & 
Company struggled with ladies’ fashions, the moving 
picture was coming slowly out of the little peep-boxes 
and on to the screen. “Store shows” began to appear 
in the poorer amusement quarters of our“cities, offering 
moving pictures, often associated with the cheapest of 
cheap vaudeville. The pictures ran two “subjects” to a 
reel. (A modern-feature moving-picture show is six or 
seven reels long.) Small and ignorant people held the 


ZUKOR BECOMES A SHOWMAN 87 

business of exhibition. Most of the early contracts are 
signed, on the part of the exhibitor, with crosses ! 

At about this period, a young bank clerk of St. Louis 
named Frank Meyer acquired a taste for “the pictures” 
and let his imagination play on their possibilities. Half- 
disguised, he dodged through the slums and sidled in 
at the ticket-taker’s door, dreading lest some acquaint- 
ance see him and report his bad habit to the bank. After 
he took the plunge and went into the business of motion- 
picture distribution, the ladies of his banking circle 
dropped him from their lists. 

When these little picture houses began to attract 
public attention, reformers and uplifters took frantic 
alarm. Moving-picture technique was still so crude that 
the audience, in order to see action on the screen, must 
sit in total darkness. That gave opportunity for “spoon- 
ing,” the mild Victorian ancestor of our modern “pet- 
ting”; therefore was it dangerous to the morals of the 
populace. Europe had produced a few pictures with a 
slant toward what the trade called afterward “that sex 
stuff.” The positives of these pictures have gone long 
since to the scrapheap; and I have never found any old 
witness of such iniquities. It is impossible, therefore, to 
say whether in our own time even reformers would con- 
sider them so very vicious. Nor were they produced 
widely. But that was enough for minds afflicted with 
the common human infirmity, suspicion of a new thing. 
Generally, the prosperous and respectable first heard 


88 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


of the motion-picture craze through city ordinances for 
suppression or regulation of these “slum theatres.” 

As for production, that lay still in control not of 
artists or showmen, but of engineers and mechanics. For 
the business, in this early stage of the game, was the 
prey of odd circumstances. No one man invented the 
moving picture. Both the camera which records the 
fluttering image and the projector which throws it 
onto the screen were the compound of many devices. 
Edison, it is true, laid his finger on the weak point in 
the camera; probably to him belongs the major credit. 
However, he stopped far short of perfection. Some of 
the minor improvements were invented almost simul- 
taneously by different men. As these inventions became 
important, there followed a complex, tiresome series of 
lawsuits over patents and prior rights. So it happened 
that all who dealt with the production of moving pic- 
tures had their minds fixed not upon the finished prod- 
uct, but upon the tool. 

In effect, the companies which manufactured ap- 
paratus governed the business. After the formation 
of the Moving Picture Patents Company and the Gen- 
eral Film Company — the so-called “film trust” — they 
governed it in fact. The men in charge were concerned 
mostly with selling or leasing their machines; not with 
catching the nickels at the box office. At first they 
created film stories only as a means of giving the 
machines something to do, thereby creating demand. 


ZUKOR BECOMES A SHOWMAN 


89 

To-day, the radio is passing through somewhat the 
same period of development. And, being mechanics, 
they thought of art in mechanical terms. The first curios- 
ity of the public had died away. People no longer came 
to the films just to satisfy their sense of wonder at seeing 
a photograph move. They wanted now something which 
stirred the mind or emotion, just as on the spoken stage. 
And generally these early producers tried to satisfy that 
desire by mechanical “stunts” — a city destroyed at the 
touch of a magician, or a realistic devil bursting out of a 
volcano. The startling mechanical effects of the screen, 
such as the fade-in, long preceded the real film story. In- 
stead of working toward Ramsaye’s vital principle, 
“The public likes to believe,” these early producers 
were working away toward unreality. 

I Nevertheless, the narrative element began to worm its 
way in. But with less than five minutes to a story, these 
first film narratives were primitive and childish — the 
pranks of small boys, the lollygagging of comedy lovers, 
the escape of a bicycle thief. The imperfect machine 
still blurred slow motion with irritating flashes; rapid 
action suited it best. Hence rose the “chase pictures”; 
in half the films of that period, someone ran after some- 
one else. And yet the people of our less affluent city 
districts paid in increasing numbers their nickels at 
the box office; restrained as it was by sheer human blind- 
ness to commercial possibilities, the film was going ahead. 

Adolph Zukor saw no more than the rest. He went 


90 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

constantly to drama and vaudeville; along with lawn 
tennis, which had succeeded baseball in his enthusiasms, 
the theatre was his favourite diversion. But he had never 
witnessed a moving picture except on a vaudeville bill. 
The seed planted by the May Irwin Kiss still lay dor- 
mant. 

He was to edge toward the moving picture through 
a by-path. When in 1894 and 1895 Edison began general 
distribution of his peep-show-in-a-box, the “kinetoscope 
parlours” grew into “nickodeons.” Against one wall of 
these brilliantly lighted establishments stood a row of 
moving-picture machines; against the other, phono- 
graphs with ear-pieces for the individual auditor. The 
phonograph did not become a universal household lux- 
ury until ten years later. All these machines operated 
on the slot principle; a five-cent piece was the master 
key. As time went on, the cost of machines and ma- 
terials fell; newcomers, competing with established firms, 
found it possible to cut prices to one cent. 

In Buffalo lived Mitchell Mark, sprung like most of 
the characters in this story from humble origins. He 
had served as agent for the Edison devices, and knew 
this business. Mark conceived a simple yet brilliant idea, 
which he put experimentally into practice. He added to 
moving-picture boxes and phonographs all the existing 
penny-in-the-slot amusement machines of the country 
fairs, such as registering punching-bags, automatic 
fortune-tellers, devices for testing strength. These he 


ZUKOR BECOMES A SHOWMAN 


91 


gathered up into one establishment which showed them 
at a standard price of one cent apiece; and he named it 
the Penny Arcade. It succeeded; evidently Buffalo liked 
the idea. Proceeding cautiously, he tried out the plan in 
One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street, New York, and 
proved to himself that the appeal of the Penny Arcade 
was universal, not local. In 1903, Mark prepared seri- 
ously to invade the metropolis. However, he lacked at 
the moment either the funds or the inclination to invest 
much of his own money in the venture. 

« Now among the large and growing family connection 
of the American Zukors was one Max Goldstein. The clan 
describe him as “a young fellow with a lot of good 
schemes but no money to back them.” One day toward 
the end of that year, he called at the offices of Kohn & 
Company in East Twelfth Street, and laid before Kohn 
and Zukor the glittering idea of the Penny Arcade. 
There were millions in it; he needed only the loan of 
three thousand dollars to buy a partnership. 

Kohn and Zukor listened to him open-minded; found 
the idea promising. They lent him three thousand dol- 
lars; then, fired with his enthusiasm, themselves invested 
in the company. So, in the amusement season of 1903- 
1904, the Penny Arcade opened in South Union Square 
with five owners — Mark, his Buffalo partner Wagner, 
Max Goldstein, Morris Kohn, and Adolph Zukor. It 
paid from the beginning. In the first year the slots swal- 
lowed up one hundred and one thousand dollars in 


92 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

pennies; and notwithstanding the heavy overhead inci- 
dent to starting such an enterprise, the Penny Arcade 
returned twenty per cent, net profit on the investment. 
They had, it seemed to them, the long-sought show- 
man’s formula for getting all the people all the time. 

Now, a quarter of a century afterward, both Kohn 
and Zukor laugh when they remember how the Penny 
Arcade, a small flier in comparison with their established 
fur business, absorbed from the first their attention and 
interest. It was the blood working in them. “Every 
Hungarian is either a peasant or an artist; often both.” 
And every Hungarian, be his origin Magyar or Semitic, 
has something of the showman. All through Europe, 
Hungarians sprinkle the theatrical and amusement busi- 
ness; in some countries they dominate it. Kiralfy, our 
first imaginative showman, belonged to that breed. 
Kohn and Zukor were drifting toward the vocation for 
which they were bom. 

But presently, the Penny Arcade generated an inter- 
est far less remote. If it paid so well in Fourteenth 
Street, why not in Harlem, the Bowery, Second Avenue, 
Eighth Avenue, all quarters where simple people hun- 
gered for cheap amusement? And beyond that lay a 
thousand American cities, each an unworked gold mine. 
They formed a kind of subsidiary company to exploit 
the idea in other Eastern cities. And now, Marcus Loew 
enters the show business. He had of late struck up an 
acquaintance with David Warfield, come under fascina- 


93 


ZUKOR BECOMES A SHOWMAN 

tion of the footlights. When Kohn, Zukor, and Mark 
opened the Penny Arcade he begged for a chance to 
buy a share. That company was full, but they let him 
into the subsidiary — for a few thousand dollars which 
grew to twenty-five millions. 

Small though the return was for the moment, Kohn 
felt justified in giving the Penny Arcade his whole at- 
tention while Zukor ran the fur business. Within a 
month, obscure trouble had arisen. Not only was the 
arcade over-owned, but three of the owners — Zukor, 
Mark, and Kohn — ^were big and positive characters; in 
the course of the next fifteen years they all battered 
their way to wealth. The partners differed on policy; 
their irritation burst into a fight for control. Neverthe- 
less, before the year ended the Penny Arcade had es- 
tablished in uptown New York, in Philadelphia, and in 
Boston a litter of offspring. Some of the partners wanted 
now to expand even faster in order that they might 
solidify their position before competitors appeared. 
Some were for holding back until they had more capital 
and experience. 

Adolph Zukor, conducting the fur business in Twelfth 
Street while his mind dwelt elsewhere, belonged to the 
expansionist faction. He was still “in too much of a 
hurry.” And there he sat with no hand in the actual 
management of the thing, learning even the details 
of the daily rumpus second-hand from Morris Kohn. 

“Very well,” said Morris Kohn one night, “you go 


94 the house that SHADOWS BUILT 

over and see if you can run the Penny Arcade, and I’ll 
attend to the furs.” 

Adolph Zukor plunged into the new job, and found it 
from the first more difficult than he thought. But for 
all the irritation, he felt the glow of showmanship. By 
the end of two months he decided to abandon the fur 
business and throw his fortune with the Penny Arcade. 
He bought Morris Kohn’s holdings. Then, having a good 
offer, they sold the fur house of Kohn & Company. 
Morris Kohn travelled West to close up the branch house. 

When Kohn returned to New York, Adolph Zukor 
was practically beaten. The original Penny Arcade had 
taken in other partners. They had combined against 
him. He had reached an impasse. 

“All right, Adolph,” said Morris Kohn, “now I’m 
willing to have a try at it. Suppose you sell back your 
interest to me.” Adolph accepted on the spot. 

This was in 1905, the year when Adolph Zukor turned 
thirty-two. For the first time in his life, he was downed, 
really downed — a defeat spiritual, however, rather than 
material. He had lost little or no money in the affair of 
the Penny Arcade. He found himself with a fluid work- 
ing capital of nearly two hundred thousand dollars, and 
for the present nothing to do with it. He began to 
look round for a good opening in the business of show- 
manship. For to that he found himself committed. He 
liked the game — its gaiety and glitter and movement, its 
sociability, and the sense of standing host to the world. 


ZUKOR BECOMES A SHOWMAN 


95 

Let me finish here with some of the careers which 
flowed from troubled sources to pleasant lands through 
the channel of the Penny Arcade on Union Square. 
Mitchell Mark never again associated himself directly 
with his old partners. He “got into pictures” neverthe- 
less. It was he who built later the Strand Theatre in 
Broadway, at the time the most important moving- 
picture palace in the world. Morris Kohn, after he 
took over Adolph Zukor’s share in the Penny Arcade, 
formed the Automatic Vaudeville Company; the name 
explains its purpose. By negotiations whose details do 
not concern us, he acquired control and began to spot 
the community with penny arcades. At once, he drew 
Emil Shauer into the combination. 

Here comes another of those alliances by matrimony 
— already so complex that I cannot blame the reader 
for growing confused. This one is a double link. Emil 
Shauer, born in America of a Bohemian couple, married 
Julia Kaufmann, sister-in-law to Adolph Zukor, and 
niece to Morris Kohn; she was born in that sod house of 
North Dakota. And Emil Shauer’s sister had married 
Morris Kohn. Though not Hungarian, the Shauer 
family has a native taste for showmanship. Emil’s 
brother, a chess player just below the championship 
class, served until his early death as the brains of the 
Automatic Turkish Chess Master in Chicago’s Eden 
Musee. However, Shauer began life in a Chicago de- 
partment store, and worked up to a buyer’s job. 


96 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

On his way to Europe, he visited his relatives in the 
Penny Arcade. The performance tickled his keen sense 
of humour. He agreed to help out by searching for novel- 
ties abroad. In Paris, he found an Automatic Gypsy 
Fortune-Teller which performed a realistic pantomime 
as it delivered the card. He bought the American rights 
for the Penny Arcade. On the voyage home, he amused 
himself by writing hopeful but cryptic prophecies for 
the fortune-cards; and all the automatic gypsy ma- 
chines, even to this day, use those little jokes of Shauer’s. 
When Kohn offered him a slice of the Automatic Vaude- 
ville Company and a salary as manager, he threw up his 
good prospects in the dry-goods business to accept. 

They both rose. Kohn’s commercial sense and his 
talent for mechanics made him before long the eminent 
figure among exhibitors of penny arcades. Then the 
moving picture began slowly to out-distance all other de- 
vices for cheap amusement. Kohn saw that coming; 
and when about 1909 the stream of pennies dwindled, 
he slid painlessly over into motion-picture exhibition. 
Never again in the centre of Adolph Zukor’s enterprises, 
he operated nevertheless on their outskirts. He has re- 
tired from business now — “with as much money as is 
good for me,” he says. His country estate behind the 
western palisades of the Hudson lies near Adolph 
Zukor’s; for after the temporary irritation raised by the 
mad situation in that original Penny Arcade, they set- 
tled down as affectionate kinsmen whose careers ran 


ZUKOR BECOMES A SHOWMAN 


97 


parallel. Emil Shauer, on the other hand, in time joined 
Adolph Zukor. His likeable personality, his sense of 
humour, and his experience with Europe played their 
part in developing the motion picture as a major Amer- 
ican export. 

A few weeks after Zukor left the Union Square Ar- 
cade, Loew found that his partners wanted to force 
him out of the subsidiary company. “All right, gentle- 
men,” he said, “if we can’t be happy together, let’s be 
happy apart.” And he sold out for the exact amount of 
his original investment. But he had found his beloved 
career; ladies’ furs attracted him no longer. He stayed 
in the amusement business. . . . However, we are not 
quite finished with Marcus Loew. 

The penny arcades, though they sickened in 1909, did 
not die. On the fringe of any amusement quarters in our 
greater cities you will find still these little tinsel establish- 
ments complete even to the peep-show motion pictures 
and the automatic gypsies. William Schork, the con- 
temporary Penny Arcade king, began his rise as night 
watchman for that pioneer establishment in Union 
Square South. For him, too, it made magic ! 


CHAPTER IX 


THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY 

6'nter now, and by the side door, William A. Brady. 
Big, vital, cordial, witty, reckless, generous, one hun- 
dred per cent, masculine, he was born to bear a nick- 
name; and his world still calls him “Billy Brady.” 
He was the first of our eminent pugilistic managers and 
promotors; among other champions he handled James 
J. Corbett. In those days of saloon champions and 
mixed-ale preliminary fighters, pugilism had an aura of 
disreputability. Gradually, Brady edged over into the 
general amusement business, and after he married his 
leading woman, Grace George, he abandoned all con- 
nection with the prize ring. In 1905, he had out many 
ventures, ranging from Broadway productions to a 
baseball club. 

In Chicago, Brady stopped one night before a cheap 
show whose front bore the electric legend, “Hale’s 
Tours.” Outside, a long queue of men, women, and chil- 
dren was waiting for the next exhibition to open. Such a 
phenomenon is fresh scent to a showman. Brady jostled 
his way in. He found himself occupying a perfect imi- 
tation of a railway carriage, which ended in an observa- 

98 


THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY 


99 


tion platform. When the seats were full and the door 
closed, the uniformed ticket-taker became the con- 
ductor. 

“All aboard!” he called, and signalled to the imagi- 
nary engineer. Immediately the seats began swaying and 
rattling; a whistle blew in the distance; and the crunch- 
ing of wheels sounded from below. As the train “started 
up,” there began on a screen at the end of the observa- 
tion platform a moving picture representing for one reel 
the ascent of Mont Blanc by scenic railway. Except for 
colouring, the illusion was perfect; you seemed indeed to 
be travelling on a rather unsmooth railway up the Alps. 

When the conductor herded out the satisfied crowd, 
Brady stood on the sidewalk and watched through three 
performances. Business kept up all the evening. It 
looked like a gold mine, and Brady asked questions. 
This novelty, the doorkeeper informed him, came from 
Kansas City; Chief of Police Hale invented it and 
owned the patents. It had just reached Chicago; “terri- 
tory” was still for sale. At once, Brady proceeded to 
Kansas City, dickered for a day with Chief Hale, and 
returned to New York owner of the Atlantic Coast 
rights. 

At exactly the same period Adolph Zukor, having 
withdrawn from the Penny Arcade, found himself and 
his money out of employment. The theatrical world is 
given to gossip. Within a week, news of Brady’s minor 
venture in amusement had spread abroad. So one 


100 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

afternoon Adolph Zukor, whom Brady knew casually 
as a small figure in the amusement world, called at the 
office. 

“I have heard about Hale’s Tours,” he said, “and I 
want in.” 

Brady had several reasons for sitting down and talk- 
ing it all over. He was struggling for a secure foothold 
as a theatrical manager. Already Broadway assumed 
that air of superiority toward the moving picture which 
held the film back from its destiny for so many years 
and closed the golden door of opportunity to so many 
managers. To appear as manager and sole owner of 
Hale’s Tours might injure his standing. Here was a 
man willing to acknowledge ownership; and one with 
experience in small amusements. Further, Zukor pro- 
posed an ideal location — 46 Union Square South, 
next door to the Penny Arcade. Past this row floated 
of evenings more people who would be likely to 
patronize a cheap show than past any other in New 
York. Finally, now that he saw for the first time into the 
mind of this casual acquaintance, Brady began to con- 
ceive for him an admiration which grew stronger with 
every passing year. “He didn’t talk easily, but he al- 
ways said something; and I could see that he had a lot 
of common sense.” Before Zukor left the office, he had 
bought an equal partnership. Brady was to furnish ex- 
perience and counsel; Zukor to manage the show. 

Hastily they installed a “train” at 46 Union Square. 


THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY loi 

It was an immediate hit; during the first week the 
queue waiting for admission stretched halfway down 
the block. For once, Adolph Zukor had found a partner 
as much in a hurry as himself. The varnish was not dry 
on their apparatus in Union Square before they had 
opened another exhibition in Newark, had begun build- 
ing in Boston and Pittsburgh. 

The scheme involved a weekly change of programme; 
Chief Hale, in putting his invention on the market, had 
raked the world for views of famous scenery filmed 
from the rear of a moving train — such as the passes of 
the Rockies, the heights of the Andes, the palisades of 
the Hudson. The original show at 46 Union Square 
had changed its bill once or twice when receipts 
began mysteriously to dwindle. The same thing hap- 
pened in Newark, Boston, and Pittsburgh — two or 
three weeks of full houses, and then a slump. Brady, 
the more experienced showman, put his finger on the 
weak point. 

“ It’s a one-time show,” he said. “ I should have seen 
that ! People are interested in the stunt, not the picture. 
Once they’ve had the experience, they won’t come again. 
Better close it up and pocket our losses.” 

The typical Broadway showman puts out ten ven- 
tures at once, expecting to lose on nine of them and to 
recoup on the successful tenth. The experienced Brady 
was inured to that process; Zukor was not. He believed 
that Hale’s Tours would yet pull through, and begged 


102 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

for a few weeks more. Those few weeks nearly ruined 
them, for attendance dwindled progressively. 

Then, passing a little storehouse in Pittsburgh, 
Adolph Zukor saw a lurid poster advertising The Great 
Train Robbery. By way of keeping his eye on a rival, he 
paid his nickel, entered with the crowd. And for the 
second time in his life he found himself thrilled by a 
moving picture. 

He was seeing, as a matter of fact, the contemporary 
climax of the art. A modern director, witnessing The 
Great Train Robbery in the National Board of Censor- 
ship’s exhibit of antique films, laughs at its awkward 
technique. But it has merits which stand up still; and it 
compared to its predecessors as a well-rounded short 
story to a newspaper sketch. For one thing, it was the 
longest film ever produced in America. When Edwin S. 
Porter, its creator, announced his intention of making 
a picture which would run for a whole twelve minutes, the 
business called him insane. A few years later they said 
the same thing, and for a similar reason, of Adolph 
Zukor. . . . 

Porter packed his twelve minutes with action. The Great 
Train Robbery told the story without the aid of cap- 
tions; nor would captions have added anything. You 
see the bandits riding on their raid; you see the station 
agent working in his office. The bandits raid the agent, 
flash on his telegraph key the signal which halts the 
train at the siding. They hold up the train crew, blow 


THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY 103 

the express safe, kill the messenger, force the passengers 
to stand in line, rob them. Meanwhile, the agent’s 
little daughter, bringing supper in a dinner pail, dis- 
covers the crime. She cuts her father loose. He notifies 
the sheriff. There follows the “pursuit scene” grown 
since so conventional. Finally the posse surrounds the 
bandits, who fight to the death behind fallen horses. 
When the last man has rolled over dead, the film seems 
logically finished. But no — onto the screen springs a 
close-up of the Bandit Chief, masked and menacing. He 
draws his revolver and discharges all its chambers at 
the audience. 

I saw The Great Train Robbery during its first run in 
vaudeville, and it appealed mightily to the little boy in 
me, so that I have remembered it all these years. Last 
year I saw it again, and it still had a thrill — especially 
that final scene, which to-day any jury of censors would 
condemn without leaving their seats. 

Vaudeville was then the approved outlet for a new 
film. The Great Train Robbery had run on all the cir- 
cuits to the great profit of its producer, and now, at re- 
duced prices, was being peddled among the little five- 
cent store shows in the humbler tenderloins of our big 
cities. Watching it through two performances, Adolph 
Zukor hatched an idea. 

Terry Ramsaye, who has observed his peculiarities 
for many years, has noted that when Zukor thinks 
things out, he works off his superfluous energies by 


104 the house that SHADOWS BUILT 

walking. That night, he walked Pittsburgh into the small 
hours. Next morning, on his own responsibility, he 
rented a set of Porter’s films. Thereafter, as soon as the 
“train” reached the summit of Mont Blanc or the head 
of the Royal Gorge, the jiggling machinery stopped and 
The Great Train Robbery began on the screen. Interview- 
ing his customers at the door, Zukor found that they 
liked this piece of melodrama better than the scenic 
tour. Business began to pick up. 

But too late, Brady felt. Preparing for a busy season 
on his own account, much more interested in his Broad- 
way productions than in any flier with a five-cent show, 
he took time to run over the statements of Hale’s Tours, 
and fell into profound pessimism. They had sunk a small 
fortune in the machinery of the enterprise; each car, 
with the apparatus which made it sway and clatter, 
cost from six thousand dollars to eight thousand dollars. 
And it was mere scenery; only scrap iron and kindling 
once the show closed. They had liabilities of one hun- 
dred and eighty thousand dollars; and assets, mostly 
frozen, of little more than one hundred thousand. 
Though The Great Train Robbery had stimulated re- 
ceipts, the company was still running behind. 

“In this business,” he told Zukor, “you must know 
when you’re beaten. A thing goes or it doesn’t go. Many 
a manager has ruined himself by hanging to a losing 
proposition. Great Train Robbery and all, it’s still a one- 
time show.” 



Entravce to Hale’s Tours, operated by Adolph Zukor in com- 
pany with William A. Brady 




An intereshng tennis group. Left to right — the late Marcus Loezv., Sam 
Bernard, Milton Wolff, Lou Teller, and Lew Fields. Adolph Zukor is 

seated on the ground 



THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY 


105 


“But how can we quit?” asked Zukor. 

“Throw her into bankruptcy,” said Brady. “That’s 
fair and usual. This is a limited liability company. We 
wipe out our debts and lose only the few thousand we 
invested in the beginning.” 

To this day, Billy Brady remembers the effect of this 
proposal on his young and obscure partner. 

“ It was as though I’d touched him with a live wire,” 
he says. “ He bounced up from his chair and came at me 
with his hands out. I never dreamed he had such a tem- 
per. And he yelled, ‘I won’t go into bankruptcy! I 
won’t!’” 

When the partners recovered their balance, Adolph 
Zukor proposed a plan to regain solvency. He had been 
listening to the gossip of the little, submerged moving- 
picture world. Porter’s masterpiece had started a slow 
movement forward. Although a twelve-minute film with 
a dozen actors, a mob, and trained horses seemed too 
daring an enterprise for general adoption, directors were 
beginning to introduce coherent stories; month by 
month their product improved. It was possible to get a 
reasonably steady supply of films which, though stop- 
ping far from ideal, drew the public. Zukor proposed 
frankly to scrap the machinery of Hale’s Tours, to turn 
the houses into five-cent moving-picture theatres. On 
those terms, he believed, the company could return 
profits and eventually pay off its debts. At any rate, he 
wanted to make the try. Even yet, he failed in thorough 


io6 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


mastery of the English language. Perhaps that defect 
served him in this argument so vital to his future career. 
An inarticulate man, struggling for expression while he 
talks common sense, achieves an impression of sincerity 
which no glib man can imitate. 

“All right,” said Brady at length, “go ahead and 
have your try. But don’t get us further into the hole, 
and don’t bother me with details.” 

Silently, persistently — as was his way — Adolph Zukor 
went to work. He made Brady’s office his uptown head- 
quarters. Busy with a hundred other things, Brady paid 
this small, unsuccessful venture very little attention, 
except to satisfy himself that it was not losing any more 
money. At the end of two years, Adolph Zukor entered 
his office and laid a balance sheet on the desk. Brady 
ran through the papers, and whistled. The transformed 
Hale’s Tours had begun to return a profit in its first 
year; now, at the beginning of the third, it had paid 
off the whole debt; and in the bank lay a small but en- 
couraging dividend ! 

That, however, is going a little ahead of the story. 


CHAPTER X 


THE COMEDY THEATRE 

‘^HEN Adolph Zukor persuaded his partner to salvage 
rhe Hale’s Tours Company by means of the moving 
picture, he proceeded in a manner which perturbed the 
temperamental Brady. At the approach of summer he 
tightened up the shaky machinery of the doubtful enter- 
prise, left it in competent hands, and took his family 
abroad for a leisurely tour of Europe. 

■ “I was irritated at the time,” said Brady twenty 
years later. “ If I hadn’t been so busy, and if it hadn’t 
seemed such a trifling little side show to my Broadway 
enterprises, I think I’d have closed it all up then and 
there.” 

As for Zukor, he says merely: “I wanted to get away 
and think.” 

Also he was very, very tired. In 1894, as I have told 
before, he and Max Schosberg, flush with the first 
golden running of the Novelty Fur Company, had taken 
a boyish look at Europe. More than eleven years had 
passed since then, during which Adolph Zukor never 
knew a real vacation. Meantime, he had lived through 
spasm after spasm of anxious, concentrated, gruelling 
work — his struggle to get back on his feet after the col- 

107 


io8 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


lapse of the fur cape, his efforts to establish Kohn & 
Company in New York, his losing fight for control of 
the Penny Arcade, his scrambling and juggling to keep 
Hale’s Tour Company out of bankruptcy. He had be- 
come conscious of an itching irritation over all his skin; 
in him the first signal — as specialists were afterward to 
inform him — of nervous exhaustion. Now, he had al- 
tered again the whole direction and purpose of his life. 
He was about to enter his third apprenticeship, though 
he realized that only dimly. He did realize that he faced 
another struggle, and needed all his strength. 

“The most sensible thing he ever did,” says Brady 
now. 

He lingered awhile in Paris and Vienna, and then re- 
visited Ricse. In the decade since he saw it last, more 
and more boys of the town had felt the stirring of am- 
bition and emigrated to America. As a proof of prosper- 
ity, they were sending back remittances from their 
wages. But after all, these were only workmen or, at 
most, floorwalkers and clerks. Here came a native who 
seemed to Ricse a wealthy man. He had been partner 
in a New York fur busines; he was now a “theatrical 
manager” — little, orphan Adolph! Somewhat to his 
embarrassment — he having a sense of proportion — the 
Mayor turned out the Town Council to receive him. 
Evading further honours, he passed on to Berlin for a 
visit with Rabbi Arthur Liebermann, already estab- 
lished as the most eloquent of the younger Hebrew 


THE COMEDY THEATRE 


109 


preachers in the German metropolis. Another leisurely 
look at Paris, and with the first touch of autumn he re- 
turned to New York entirely refreshed. 

That is the surface of the matter. But underneath, in 
the depths of his wide-thinking, in-taking mind, Zukor 
had worked out his problem and mapped his future. 
The moving picture might have infinite possibilities. 
Though its mechanical devices and methods were still 
crude, they were improving constantly. He had seen a 
great advance, even in his own brief experience. Artistic 
improvement seemed just as inevitable. Some day — and 
perhaps soon — production would work its way out of 
the hands of mechanics and into that of showmen. 
Then — ^well. The Great Train Robbery proved how audi- 
ences would respond. In that day the moving picture 
might displace the spoken theatre. On paper, it was a 
simple problem in arithmetic. The “legitimate” stage 
charged a dollar and a half for an orchestra seat; it 
could not charge much less and continue to exist. The 
moving-picture house charged five cents, or at the most, 
ten. ... He sailed for Europe in a state of uncertainty 
over his future. Hitherto, he had been merely an op- 
portunist. While his natural bent had something to 
do with turning him from a fur manufacturer into a 
showman, accident had made him a specialist in motion 
pictures. From now on, however, the way lay clear and 
marked before him. He intended to play this one card, 
and to gamble on it everything he had. Also, it would 


no THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


seem, there rewoke in him a quality which he had shown 
in his youth, but which seems to have lain dormant 
during his early struggles with business — his faculty for 
thinking ahead. To that turn of mind — ^which became in 
later years a habit — many of his old associates attribute 
his later phenomenal success. The rest envisaged only 
to-morrow; Zukor’s imagination was constantly analyz- 
ing and synthesizing a situation two or three years in 
the future. 

He had named that little revamped store at 46 Union 
Square, South, the Comedy Theatre. There he set- 
tled himself in a cubby-hole over the auditorium and 
swung into another spasm of hard, concentrated work. 
Now that Zukor had buckled down, Brady paid little 
attention to this trifling side enterprise. Not once a 
month did he think to inquire how or what it was doing. 
Zukor, however, had all his eggs in the one basket. He 
was trying to squeeze every nickel he could out of the 
Comedy, whose tinny piano clanged day and night be- 
low him, and out of three smaller and more perplexing 
houses in Newark, Boston, and Pittsburgh. The Comedy, 
what with permanent seats and a passable stage, gave a 
reasonably good imitation of a regular theatre. The 
others still looked what they were — vacant stores in 
which the revampers had thrown up stages that seemed 
made of cardboard. The audiences sat on kitchen chairs, 
on benches, on the second-hand leavings of undertakers’ 
parlours. 


Ill 


THE COMEDY THEATRE; 

Marcus Loew, like Zukor forced out of the original 
Penny Arcade at Number 48, had himself em- 
barked in the business of exhibiting motion pictures. 
Within the year, he was juggling finances for a string of 
five-cent motion-picture-and-vaudeville houses, mostly 
in Greater New York; in so far as anyone considered this 
humble business at all, he was a more considerable 
factor than his old friend of the fur trade. Their theatres 
stood in different parts of the city, they did not come 
into direct competition; and so they found themselves 
making common cause, working out a policy. 

As yet the pictures were so crude, so uneven in merit, 
that a manager even of a five-cent house could not 
depend upon them alone. Fortunately for the infant 
industry, the vaudeville craze was on. Out of the East 
Side had emerged such popular figures as Weber and 
Fields, Dave Warfield, Francis Wilson. Every boy with 
a jig in his legs, every girl with a tune in her throat, 
nursed an ambition for the footlights. Promising semi- 
amateur material came cheap. You could get a passable 
songster, black-face comedian, or dance artist for twenty- 
five dollars a week; a team for forty dollars. Indeed, 
Loew considered himself more a vaudeville manager 
than a motion-picture exhibitor. At his first houses, the 
cinema merely filled in, cheaply, the space between the 
turns. 

To Zukor, on the other hand, the vaudeville acts were 
an expensive necessity — a stabilizer of the show until 


II2 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

such time as the pictures came into their own. Under 
patronage of these two men, and of the other unpreten- 
tious exhibitors whose houses were springing up all over 
the city, there arose a circuit of small-time vaudeville 
people, just graduated from the amateur class, who 
played all year round in New York and environs. 
Through this side door, Sophie Tucker, Eddie Cantor, 
and Lowell Sherman entered on their careers. 

The Comedy occupied a fortunate site, perhaps the 
best for the purpose in New York City. It prospered 
from the first. Newark and Boston did passably. 
Pittsburgh, twelve hours away by train, was a per- 
plexity. Zukor found difficulty in getting competent 
sub-management for a concern so small and cheap. It 
lost money steadily. Then came a depression in the 
steel business, forerunner to the brief but acute hard 
times which struck the country in 1907. Further, the 
city began to instal a tramway station in the same 
block, rendering the site, for the time being, most un- 
desirable. Zukor found himself juggling his payroll on 
Saturday nights; again he faced the imminent prospect 
of bankruptcy. 

When every month or so Brady asked carelessly, 
“How are the pictures going, Adolph?” Zukor replied 
with affected nonchalance: 

“Oh, fine, Billy!” 

As a matter of fact, he had thrown some of his own 
reserve funds into the venture; and Pittsburgh swal- 


THE COMEDY THEATRE 


"3 


lowed them up. At no other time in a life full of crises 
like this had Zukor worried so much. 

Husband-like, while presenting a brave face to the 
world he unbosomed himself at home. So one day, re- 
turning from the office, he found a moving van at the 
door of his apartment house. Mrs. Zukor met him on 
the stairs. 

“I knew you’d never ask this, Adolph,” said she, 
“but we’re moving to a small flat in One Hundred and 
Forty-seventh Street. And I’ve discharged the maid.” 

They settled down to live small again, as they had 
done in the early, struggling days after their marriage. 
Mildred Zukor, destined to be heiress of two great for- 
tunes, began at about this period to register her first 
conscious memories. And she tells how the only family 
diversion was a taxicab ride through the Park on Sunday 
afternoons. Adolph Zukor used to walk whenever he 
could, in order to save carfare. Then he found a pur- 
chaser for the troublesome branch of his business: a 
Pittsburgh man, who had a faith equal to his own in the 
future of motion pictures. Compared to the sum which 
he and Brady had sunk in the equipment for Hale’s 
Tours and in the subsequent losses of this house, the 
price was trifling. But it was better than nothing. Zukor 
applied this access of funds to easement of the situation 
in his New York, Boston, and Newark houses; drove 
ahead. 

Now, at last, the anticipated began to happen. The 


II4 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

pictures, though still very crude, were improving. 
The public was becoming “educated” to the screen. The 
newspapers had begun to notice the “moving-picture 
craze.” In steadily increasing returns the business felt 
the run of the tide. Boston and Newark passed deci- 
sively and permanently into black figures. The Comedy 
Theatre was turning custom away. A year after he sold 
the Pittsburgh house came the day when Adolph Zukor 
arrayed himself in his nattiest garments, strolled casu- 
ally into Billy Brady’s office, and, with pardonable 
pride veiled by a nonchalant manner, laid on the desk a 
dividend check. All its debts paid, the old Hale’s Tours 
Company was returning a profit of ten per cent ! 

Meantime, a new human factor had come into the 
business. In 1903, Herman Kaufmann, Mrs. Zukor’s 
father — that merry and loyal soul who went pioneering 
with Morris Kohn in South Dakota — died suddenly in 
Chicago. Morris Kohn, let me recall to the reader, is 
Mrs. Kaufmann’s brother; and Adolph Zukor is her 
son-in-law. Both have almost a mania for taking care of 
their relatives. In 1904, the year when they opened the 
Penny Arcade, they brought on the widow from Chicago, 
established her, with Frances the baby and A 1 Kauf- 
mann her seventeen-year-old son, in a Harlem flat. 

A 1 Kaufmann, born in that North Dakota sod house, 
seemed to have absorbed the free and sociable spirit 
of the old West. When the family moved back to Chi- 


THE COMEDY THEATRE 


115 

cago, he and his sister Julia (Mrs. Emil Shauer) en- 
tered together a public school on the South Side. His 
high animal spirits, his joy in battle, and his pranks 
made him so much trouble that Julia, with a little girl’s 
sense of propriety, used to say to her schoolmates, “ He 
isn’t my brother; he’s only a bad little boy of the same 
name.” 

By the time he moved to New York he could whip any 
boy of his size in the district. And New York went at 
once to his head. “He bought him a cane and a pearl- 
gray hat,” says Mrs. Kaufmann, “and began to think 
he owned Broadway.” When the Penny Arcade opened, 
Kohn and Zukor found him a place as ticket taker. He 
began coming home late; much later, his watchful 
mother found, than the closing of the Penny Arcade 
justified. 

In the small hours of a certain winter morning she 
arose, travelled downtown by subway, and approached 
the Penny Arcade. It was closed, but the front door 
stood unlocked. Also, a dim light burned in the shooting- 
gallery at the rear. There Mrs. Kaufmann came upon 
her son, shooting craps on the floor. His companions — 
caps, loud cravats, sweaters decorated with diamond 
pins — the experienced Mrs. Kaufmann read the signs 
at once. This costume, as well as their hard young faces, 
betrayed them for East-Side gangsters. Family tradition 
holds that one of them was Lefty Louie, afterward 
executed for his share in the Rosenthal murder. When 


ii6 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


she invaded the room, they sprang to their feet and 
hands went to hips, for they thought that it was the 
police. Before she finished with them, they wished it 
had been the police. 

Mrs. Kaufmann took her son from the place, bore him 
home. Next day, a council of his mature relatives put 
down on him the screws of old-fashioned Jewish family 
discipline. They ruled that he couldn’t be trusted in a 
tough district. He must keep away from the Penny 
Arcade. Morris Kohn got him a job at ten dollars a 
week in the basement of a lace house, and Mrs. Kauf- 
mann confiscated his latchkey. For nearly three years he 
served like a convict, nailing boxes in that basement; 
and, spite of false promises, he still made only ten 
dollars a week. So he came to Adolph Zukor, pleading 
for parole. On his promise of strict virtue and propriety, 
Zukor employed him as house manager, ticket taker, 
general factotum. 

He was a furious, instantaneous hit. Within six 
months he had become perhaps the most popular char- 
acter in the district; known by his first name to every 
policeman, bartender, gangster, and ward politician. He 
arrived just in time. South Union Square and the abut- 
ting stretch of East Fourteenth Street were rising to the 
hectic climax of their impermanent little day as a cheap 
tenderloin. Tom Sharkey’s saloon and dance hall, a 
block to the east, was drawing the sailor custom from 
the old Bowery. In its lee upsprung a dozen resorts as 


THE COMEDY THEATRE 


117 


scandalous to propriety as New York has known in the 
past quarter-century. It seemed for a time a larger, 
cleaner, and less picturesque Barbary Coast. 

However, one element which old San Francisco never 
knew troubled all the resorts and amusements of this 
district, from the lowest dive to the “first-class family 
resorts” like the Comedy and Penny Arcade. The East 
Side gangsters had begun to make Third Avenue and 
Fourteenth Street their headquarters. Except when im- 
portant business of loft robbing or shooting took him 
abroad. Lefty Louie could always be found of nights in 
this region; likewise his companion of the Rosenthal 
murder and the electric chair at Sing Sing, Gyp the 
Blood. Monk Eastman and Humpty Jackson, both 
fated to die by pistol bullets, ruled their underworld 
from saloons under the Elevated. Keeping order was be- 
coming a problem. Tom Sharkey, by virtue of his ability 
and record, served efficiently as his own sergeant-at- 
arms. The lower resorts employed Bowery toughs, six 
feet four inches tall and half as broad, who hit first and 
reasoned afterward. 

A1 Kaufmann served not only as house manager but 
as bouncer for the Comedy Theatre. Though perfectly 
capable of taking care of himself in a fight, he never 
found it necessary to fight. He effected order through 
personality, tact, and subtlety. Knowing by face and 
name every gangster in the neighbourhood, he under- 
stood perfectly that they carried in their hip pockets 


ii8 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

“Annie Oakleys” to all shows, dancing floors, and public 
exhibitions. When one of this element poked his cap 
and the turtle neck of his sweater into the ticket win- 
dow, A1 Kaufmann passed out a ticket and forgot the 
money. 

Charlie Murphy himself. Grand Sachem of Tammany 
— it was his own district — noticed this lively boy with 
his talents as a mixer; marked him for promising human 
material. So through the lower fringes of Tammany ran 
the tacit order, “Keep off the Comedy.” When, as 
happened once in a blue moon, A1 Kaufmann was forced 
gently to eject a drunken sailor, half a dozen gangsters 
and Tammany stalwarts would rise up from the audi- 
ence, sidle to the door, and volunteer their assistance. 
Adolph Zukor kept to his office on the floor above, or at 
most stood by the door at the period of the hourly 
emptying and questioned patrons as to what they most 
liked or disliked about the show. Before the year, in- 
deed, everyone in Union Square thought that A1 Kauf- 
mann owned the place. 

A1 Kaufmann also extended his benevolent protec- 
torate over that allied family institution, the Penny 
Arcade, next door. That, still the more considerable show 
of the two, swam now in prosperity. Expressing his 
mechanical bent, Morris Kohn invented a miniature 
electric railway which, running under the slot machines, 
touched a trigger in each and let a shower of pennies 
inundate the toy freight cars. This piece of showmanship, 


THE COMEDY THEATRE 119 

heavily advertised, drew great crowds to the Arcade at 
“collection hours” — five in the afternoon and nine at 
night. As the “moving-picture craze” increased, Kohn 
and Shauer leased the floor above and opened a five- 
cent cinema show. You mounted to it by an iridescent 
and illuminated glass staircase, under which ran a con- 
stant stream of water. In normal circumstances Zukor 
might justly have quarrelled with relatives who set up 
opposition next door, but at the moment he welcomed 
the move. Already the Comedy was packed at every 
performance; he was turning so many people away as to 
injure the reputation of his house for comfort and acces- 
sibility. Presently, the company into which he and 
Brady had faded Hale’s Tours was returning dividends 
of twenty per cent. 

What were the Comedy and the Penny Arcade giving 
the public by way of entertainment? Of late I have 
seen some of those old films. To draw a comparison 
with a thing infinitely more dignified, it is as though a 
habitual patron of the Globe Theatre, in the days when 
Shakespeare and Jonson wrote the play, Burbage and 
Kemp acted it, should have met by accident a team of 
mummers reciting a clownish dialogue at a country fair. 
Here were the roots from which grew the Globe, the 
Blackfriars, Bartholomew Fair, Hamlet; but to the eyes 
of a more sophisticated generation they were merely 
grotesques. 

Taking conservatively a cue from The Great Train 


120 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


Robbery^ the mechanics and bankers who controlled 
moving-picture production were now making conces- 
sions to the human passion for a story. But a reel of a 
thousand feet remained their limit of length. That, in- 
deed, was unusual; generally they put two stories onto 
one reel. The plots were so simple as to make a nursery 
yarn seem complicated and sophisticated. Ralph Kohn, 
son of Morris, used to play about the Penny Arcade. 
Unanimously, his elders have forgotten the simple nar- 
ratives of these old films, but they stick in Ralph’s head 
like his nursery rhymes. 

“There was the masher film, for example,” he says. 
“I’ll bet it showed up in one form or another twenty 
times a year. A comedy character makes up to a lady 
on a park bench. Sometimes she’s his wife in disguise. 
Sometimes she’s just any girl. Anyhow, she calls a cop 
and there’s a chase. Finally they catch him and the cop 
beans him. That’s all! The Wild West stuff came just 
as often. The bandits rob a train or a bank or a stage or 
a grocery. The sheriff chases them and they die with 
their boots on.” 

Nine films out of ten were “comics” or brief melo- 
dramas. The tenth offered a love story built on that 
formula as old as human language: “Two lovers — love — • 
the obstacle — the obstacle overcome.” These ran, usu- 
ally, two to the reel, giving the narrator about seven 
minutes with his audience. 

Photography was still very uncertain; directors, usu- 


THE COMEDY THEATRE 


I2I 


ally the failures of “still” photographic studios, under- 
stood lighting only dimly. Irritating glimmers and jerky 
action still blurred the images on the screen. No one as 
yet understood moving-picture make-up; faces appeared 
sudden black or ghastly white. The actors were the 
small people of the legitimate stage. Established actors, 
even when they needed the money, fought shy of the 
cinema. To appear in a “film show” was to confess 
cheapness; it prejudiced one’s chances for a real job. 
No one had learned as yet that the screen is a more 
realistic medium than the stage; that even the best stage 
acting seems affected before the camera. The Great Train 
Robbery had told its story without titles; it remains in 
that respect an archaic technical marvel. The lesser 
directors had invented the title to supplement their 
sluggish imaginations and to compensate for the very 
brief time allowed them on the screen. To-day these 
also seem strange and awkward. “John Tells Mary His 
Love,” read the legend, or, “Two Years Later, Bill the 
Bandit Rode into Tucson”; and immediately you saw 
John or Bill doing it. Though Porter and the forgotten 
director of the May Irwin Kiss had introduced the 
close-up, producers used the device but seldom; and 
never, as nowadays, by way of registering the emotion 
of a character. For it tended to expose the uncertainties 
and defects of their photography and lighting. Said 
Zukor in summing it all up years later: “They put 
some brains into their mechanical devices and into 


122 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

their sales department, but never by any chance into 
their films.” 

With his order of “finished” film — purchased by the 
foot — the exhibitor must take also the appropriate 
“paper.” Early in the game, the producing companies 
had found a cheaper way than employing their own 
draftsmen, patronizing their own lithographers. The 
ten-twent’-thirt’ road show was still the theatrical 
staple of the small towns. Hundreds of melodramas 
toured out of New York every year; of which a constant 
proportion went on the road. In such emergency, they 
had no use for the rest of their posters. The motion-pic- 
ture producers bought up this stuff at waste-paper 
prices. Choosing a three-sheet which bore some remote 
resemblance to the subject of his current film, they sent 
it forth to the exhibitor. Sometimes the resemblance 
was remote indeed. “A Trip Through Hell!” announced 
one sensational poster; and the picture showed all the 
horrors of Dante’s Inferno. The film, a half a reel long, 
was simply a trick Italian picture of a stage devil rising 
from the crater of Vesuvius. Indeed, the poster, not the 
film, seemed to govern the business. Sometimes when A1 
Kaufmann made his trial run of the newest programme, 
he discovered that he was repeating a film which he had 
exhibited two or three months before, only with a new 
poster! 

When this happened, or when the current picture was 
especially dull or confused, Adolph Zukor juggled 


THE COMEDY THEATRE 


123 


round his vaudeville talent to present some especially 
popular feature. The “song slide,” achieving popularity 
at about this period, helped mightily. A robust tenor or 
a tinny soprano stood at one side of the proscenium 
arch rendering “She Was Bred in Old Kentucky,” “In 
the Shade of the Old Apple Tree,” or any other sugary 
love-song of the day, while the projector flashed on the 
screen coloured “still” photographs of the maiden and 
her lover. Now and then, on the other hand, came a 
film with a real laugh in it, a good story simply told, or 
a genuinely effective piece of romance. Always Zukor 
stood at the door as his audiences emerged, picking up 
friendly conversation about the show. Usually, he 
found his simple guests liked best the vaudeville turns. 
But when he presented one of these superior films they 
talked invariably not of the vaudeville actor but of the 
“pichur.” More and more, Adolph Zukor’s experience 
confirmed his original judgment. There was a great 
future in the business; but expansion must wait until 
producers realized the possibilities of their medium and 
gave the public something better — until “they put 
brains into the films.” 


CHAPTER XI 


THE TRUST GOES TO SEED 

jy^DOLPH ZuKOR, inhibiting as best he might his native 
impatience, waited for seven long years. 

To make comprehensible what follows, I must review 
briefly the curious state of the whole moving-picture 
business between 1905 when Zukor and Brady turned 
their Hale’s Tour houses into “store shows,” and 1912 
when Zukor, defying the world, took matters dramati- 
cally into his own hands. I shall not trouble the reader 
with much chronology or with the details of tangled 
lawsuits and countersuits to which such careful his- 
torians as Ramsaye have devoted whole volumes. 

I have called the first period of the American moving 
picture the age of the mechanic. Owners of the govern- 
ing patents, or aspirants to such ownership, controlled 
the business. Concerned mainly with establishing their 
rights and selling or leasing apparatus, they produced 
films only by way of giving their machines something to 
do. And in the spirit of mechanics did they deal with 
artistic material. The second era, heralded by The Great 
Train Robbery^ began just before Adolph Zukor entered 
the business. Even the mechanics now perceived that 
the public regarded the screen, not so much a vehicle for 

124 


THE TRUST GOES TO SEED 


125 


conveying the news or improving the mind with views of 
foreign lands, as a medium for telling a story. 

Then came the series of events which in 1908 led the 
owners of the “Edison Patents” and the “Biograph 
Patents” to amalgamate as the Motion-Picture Patents 
Company. Its critics called this “The Film Trust.” 
Whether or not it was a trust in the legal sense of the 
word, I am not competent to say. But the epithet 
passed into the argot of the film, and for convenience I 
shall use it. Perhaps the Trust might be a force yet, not 
a memory, had it contented itself with making and dis- 
pensing machinery and apparatus. However, the firms 
from which the Patents Company formed itself had 
already mixed inextricably the manufacture of appara- 
tus and the production of pictures. The Trust, on behalf 
of nine or ten companies holding its license, sought 
absolutely to control production. In theory, none could 
use a motion-picture camera, none could distribute the 
finished film, without a licence — costing a half a cent a 
foot — from Motion-Picture Patents Company. All other 
picture makers were “outlaws.” 

Now here was a new mode of expression, a new me- 
dium for conveying thought. And it was as though when 
Gutenberg invented printing he had patented his proc- 
ess and thenceforth confined the subject matter of the 
press to writings by his office staff. The film was making 
its way — increasing in public esteem, whipping up 
public curiosity. Others, outside of the companies 


126 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

gathered under the Trust, wanted an opportunity to 
express themselves. A good many tried. As things stood 
they had perhaps the moral right; but the Trust had 
the legal right. Producing independent film was by way 
of breaking the law. Consequently and naturally, many 
of the early free lances were a trifle careless of all moral 
considerations. Those obscene films, bootlegged through 
the tenement quarters, which evoked the first municipal 
laws for regulation of moving-picture exhibition, came 
largely from independent producers of this class. 

They violated not only morals but propriety and taste. 
One of them filmed the hanging of a negro in a Southern 
jail, omitting no ghastly detail. For years this piece of 
tainted celluloid dodged through the country just ahead 
of the sheriff and the police. Another showed a lynching; 
the actor, strung up by a trick rope, made realistic 
gestures with his pinioned hands and feet. Already chil- 
dren were knocking in clamorous flocks at the doors of 
the motion-picture theatres. To prosper — the Trust per- 
ceived — pictures must be “pure.” By way of advertis- 
ing their own purity and guarding themselves against 
crusaders, the licensed producers formed in 1909 the 
first voluntary censorship, whose successor is going yet. 
In their fight against the independents they needed 
favourable public opinion. “ We produce only clean films ” 
— this was their main argument with suspicious munici- 
pal authorities, newspapers, women’s clubs. 

To close an unlicensed film or to squelch an unlicensed 


THE TRUST GOES TO SEED 


127 

producer, the Trust — speaking generally — had only 
to bring an injunction. But this is a big country, full of 
hiding places; and moving-picture apparatus is compact 
and portable. The “independents,” the “film pirates,” 
worked unmolested in remote corners of the desert or 
the mountains and “free-lance” exhibitors showed their 
product in revamped stores through the small cities 
and towns. To uncover one quarter of these infringe- 
ments, the Trust would have needed a force as big as 
the Prohibition Unit. 

Faced with wrongs for which the law had no practical 
or effective remedy, the Trust itself stepped a little 
outside of the law. There followed years of melodrama 
as exciting as anything that the directors were putting 
on the screen. Free-lance producers, setting up their 
apparatus at some secret location, would be raided by 
gangs of young men who wore cauliflower ears. A brief 
free fight — and the raiders would depart with such of the 
apparatus as survived the affray. The independent pro- 
ducer had no legal remedy; he could not come into 
court with clean hands. “Western outfits,” preparing 
to shoot a scene in Arizona or New Mexico, would find 
themselves mysteriously under fire. Some artist with 
the rifle was shooting from the bushes; not at them, 
but all around them. Kept up long enough, these tactics 
would cause the sudden resignation of actors and ac- 
tresses uninured to the Wild West. Spies and private de- 
tectives dogged not only the leading independents but 


128 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


the officers and stars of the Trust. For the opposition 
was using its own rough tactics. Sometimes a new nega- 
tive of a Trust firm came from the film bath rotting 
and ruined by the addition of some insidious chemical; 
and simultaneously a photographic expert, newly hired 
a few days before, would disappear without collecting 
his pay. 

Eventually, the fight came out into the open. Both 
sides appealed to the public. The Trust emphasized its 
legal right and the moral purity of its product. The inde- 
pendents played on the “trust-busting” spirit of the 
time. The first modest moving-picture journals had 
their inception in the militant necessities of this fight. 

While the bankers and mechanics at the head of the 
Trust struggled to maintain their monopoly of film 
production, they did not neglect their opportunity for 
monopoly of distribution. At first, they proceeded on 
the “states’ rights” plan. To some local entrepreneur 
the producer sold the exclusive franchise to peddle its 
films in New York or Louisiana or California. The 
purchaser let out the subsidiary rights to exhibitors, 
and pocketed his gains or his losses. All these states’ 
rights buyers were supposed to handle Trust films ex- 
clusively. Often, they tried to supplement their incomes 
by surreptitious addition of outlaw films. When the 
Trust discovered them at it there followed legal actions, 
withdrawals of patronage, even dramatic raids, 


THE TRUST GOES TO SEED 


129 


In 1909, it organized its exchangemen for continuous 
and regular distribution. But important men kept out 
from under its tent. Then in 1910 it formed the General 
Film Company, virtually a subsidiary, and started to 
buy up exchanges. A year or two more, and the agencies 
of the General Film Company covered the entire coun- 
try, with the important exception of New York. There 
William Fox, afterward a large factor in film production, 
had enough capital and political backing to hold out. 
Now the Trust, which did business with no house that 
ever exhibited an independent film, could begin regular 
distribution of two new films a week. Outside of New 
York and one or two unimportant localities, the inde- 
pendents had to use the old states’ rights plan. Zukor 
took his supply at first from the Trust; but shortly after 
the General Film Company was formed, he aligned him- 
self with the independents. 

The Trust had therefore some competition, which, 
under ordinary circumstances, might have developed 
the moving picture into its modern form. However, the 
circumstances were not ordinary. These competitors 
were merely sniping around the edges. All of them knew 
that any exceptionally fine and popular film, any star- 
tling new departure, would cause the Trust to draw its 
concealed weapon — the law of the land. As for the 
“regular” firms, they started bravely forward about 
1907 or 1908; a few men of artistic impulse and back- 


130 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

ground, like J. Stuart Blackton, began to produce one- 
reelers which really told a story in interesting form. Then 
about 1909 or 1910 they stopped and set. 

The trouble was too much prosperity. 

In 1908, there came to the Biograph as actor and 
director one David Wark Griffith. All through a roving 
and unsettled youth, life had been training him for this 
very job. As a newspaper reporter in Alabama and in 
Louisiana he had acquired a journalistic sense of the 
popular mind. He took to writing plays, thereby educat- 
ing himself in dramatic form. His masterpiece was ac- 
cepted by a Broadway manager and then, by a cruel 
whimsey of the theatrical business, sent to the store- 
house. “And I lost twenty pounds just cursing fate,” 
he says. Nature gave him expressive and mobile features 
and in the course of his adventures with rejected plays 
he learned that he could act. Needing money, he began 
playing small parts as a stop-gag. He found himself 
“resting,” with hunger just round the corner. “And so,” 
he says, “I sold myself down the river.” He entered a 
studio as scenario writer at $10 a script and actor at ^5 
a day. This, he felt, spelt ruin to his stage career; but 
he had to eat. 

The legitimate theatre of Broadway was still pulling 
its hobble skirts away from its hoydenish little cousin 
of Union Square. Any actor whose face appeared on the 
screen acknowledged himself to the profession as a 
cheap failure. When the Biograph Company, liking 


THE TRUST GOES TO SEED 131 

Griffith’s scenarios, offered him a job as director, the 
management had almost to sandbag him into accept- 
ance. The certainty of fifty steady dollars a week prob- 
ably turned the scale. 

For years, indeed, he quarrelled with his fate, swear- 
ing, at the expiration of each contract, that he was going 
to quit the game, then reluctantly signing again. 
Griffith put new life not only into the Biograph but 
into the whole business. He began using the close-up to 
emphasize poignantly emotional moments. He invented 
“parallel action.” He groped away from stage-acting 
toward the more realistic acting which suits the film. 
Above all, he was by training both a journalist and a 
dramatist ; he knew how to tell a story. Other human dis- 
coveries of other companies were making their own im- 
provements. They and Griffith borrowed each other’s 
ideas back and forth. Yet perhaps he was the leading 
artistic spirit in that false dawn of the moving picture. 
Also, he found Mary Pickford. 

This most famous of American women has stood sub- 
ject for a dozen biographies. Here, I merely summarize 
her life. She was born Gladys Smith of Toronto, 
Canada; her father was of English extraction, her 
mother Irish. When she was five years old, her father — a 
purser on a transatlantic steamer — died suddenly, 
leaving his widow and his three children destitute. Mrs. 
Smith found work in a theatre. They wanted a child 
super in a hurry. Mrs. Smith secured the job for little 


132 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

Gladys. Her golden hair, her soft blue eyes, her intelli- 
gence, and her amiability endeared her alike to audience 
and company. Within the year, all three Smith children 
were “trouping.” “ Smith” would not do for programmes 
and posters. So they borrowed a family name of an 
Irish ancestress and became Mary, Lottie, and Jack 
Pickford. 

There followed years of cheap theatrical boarding 
houses, of lessons learned and recited on trains, of 
crises in towns which enforced the labour laws against 
child actors, of ups and downs, until the accidents of 
the road led Mrs. Smith and her brood to the great 
theatrical mart in New York. There, by the bold device 
of invading the stage during a rehearsal, Mary got a 
child part in Belasco’s production. The Warrens of 
Virginia, and scored a modest hit. But child parts are 
scarce, and Mary had become chief breadwinner of the 
family. An experienced actress who had appeared under 
the great Belasco on Broadway would never have 
tainted her professional reputation with the moving 
pictures. But Mary was young, inexperienced. When 
the bank account began to shrink, she applied to 
Griffith for work. He gave her a “try out”; showed the 
developed film to his directors. They objected that her 
head was too large. “A good fault; that’s the organ we 
ought to do things with in this business,” Griffith re- 
plied. He cast her at once and realized within the first 


THE TRUST GOES TO SEED 


133 


week that he had a prize — temperament, expression, 
intelligence, beauty, and, above all, a sweet worker. 

When Griffith went to Biograph as a director the 
company was running at a slight deficit. Within two 
years it paid 1100 per cent, on the investment. It was 
not alone in its prosperity. All the other Trust com- 
panies began to flourish, to boom. And there — progress 
stopped. The newspapers were talking of the “movie 
craze,” stating in that one contemptuous phrase their 
skepticism. The cool directing heads of the Trust could 
not believe that the bonanza was really going to last, 
nor imagine that beyond their rich island lay a con- 
tinent of incredible richness — a major American in- 
dustry. Better let well enough alone! All the directors, 
and especially Griffith, were yelling for more length. 
One reel — fourteen or fifteen minutes — was not long 
enough to tell a good story. The management stood 
firm. 

' Taking things into his own hands, Griffith produced 
a two-reeler entitled His Trust. When he showed it at 
the studio, the chiefs of his company refused flatly to 
put it out. “Then I quit!” roared Griffith. 

Peace makers intervened, and effected a compromise. 
Biograph sent forth the picture, but as two separate 
weekly releases — the first entitled His Trust, the 
second His Trust Fulfilled. As time went on, these 
brief serials — one reel to the instalment — became more 


134 the house that SHADOWS BUILT 

and more common. Then exhibitors here and there be- 
gan combining two instalments of the serial into one 
performance. This opened the way to the two-reeler. 
But there the Trust dug in and held fast. This tendency 
of directors to string out their stories was getting 
dangerous ! 

As the struggle between artists and management went 
on someone invented a convincing psychological argu- 
ment for keeping down footage. The human mind and 
the human eye, he said, were so constituted that 
audiences could not keep their attention fixed on a 
screen narrative for more than twenty minutes. Beyond 
that, they would lose interest. 

Also, the Trust closed its eyes to one primary rule 
in showmanship. Generally, it refused to advertise its 
actors, even to let their names appear on the screen 
or the posters. The product went forth as a Biograph 
picture, a Vitagraph picture, an Edison picture. 
Theatrical managers had learned better three hundred 
years before. We know much about Burbage, the 
histrionic genius of the Globe Theatre, London, because 
his auditors were interested in him and recorded his 
doings. We know much less about Shakespeare, its 
writing genius, because most of his contemporaries 
had only a mild interest in the author of the play. Still 
less were they interested in who owned or managed the 
theatre. 

The main staple which the manager or producer sells 


THE TRUST GOES TO SEED 


I3S 

to an ordinary audience is a personality. The inventions 
of playwrights, the devices of stage managers merely 
serve to throw this personality into interesting situa- 
tions. And the cheaper and less sophisticated the 
audience, the truer the rule. Highbrows and scholars 
may go to see Shaw or Ibsen; the populace goes to see 
John Barrymore or Ed Wynn. But the magnates of the 
moving-picture Trust never admitted this. Also, they 
feared the effect of publicity on their actors. Advertise 
them, get them swell-headed and up-stage, and they 
would demand more salary — perhaps even the un- 
dreamed-of salaries paid on the “legitimate” stage, 
where stars sometimes cost a thousand dollars a week. 
Mary Bickford did some of h^r most effective work 
for Biograph at a salary of fifty dollars; and to the end 
of her service there, the public knew her only as “The 
Biograph Girl,” or “Little Mary, the Movie Girl with 
the Curls.” 

It is easy, in view of what happened afterward, to 
laugh at their shortness of vision. But they were pioneers, 
and those who break ground can seldom imagine the 
harvest. And their eventual rivals, the theatrical 
managers, were worse than short-sighted: they were 
blind. Any experienced Broadway showman, it seems 
now, might have taken hold on the “picture” business 
and, by applying the basic principles of his own craft, 
transformed it. But Broadway ignored its existence, 
even when, in the space of two years, the moving- 


136 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

picture houses of the United States rose in numbers 
from 300 to 3,cxx), and road companies of the spoken 
drama began to fade out. 

Even before Griffith and Mary Pickford arrived, the 
Biograph had established itself in a revamped old 
mansion at ii East Fourteenth Street, a stone’s 
throw from the Comedy Theatre. The grand ballroom 
served as a studio and the bedrooms for laboratories or 
projecting rooms. In the basement dining rooms the 
actors and mechanics used to eat their put-up lunches. 
Thither Mary Pickford walked every day from her 
boarding house on East Twenty-first Street; thither, 
presently, came Dorothy and Lillian Gish, whom 
Griffith singled out from the extra girls for supporting 
parts and small bits. 

Griffith would throw a one-reel film together in two or 
three days. Finished, he witnessed a “rough run” in his 
crude projecting room, gave his assistant notes on the 
cutting, and passed to the next job. The actor who 
wanted to see himself on the screen had usually to wait 
until his picture appeared at the exhibiting houses. 
Mary Pickford learned one afternoon that her latest 
film, which she had not seen, was running at the 
Comedy. It was a rush season; Griffith had ordered a 
night session. By omitting dinner, Mary Pickford could 
see it at its “ supper turn.” She repaired to the Comedy, 
bought a ticket. A 1 Kaufmann stopped her at the door. 


THE TRUST GOES TO SEED 


137 


“ How old are you ?” he asked suspiciously. 

“Fifteen,” replied Mary. (“I was only fourteen, ” she 
says now, “but I saw what was coming, so I lied just a 
little.”) 

“Then I can’t let you in,” said A1 Kaufmann. “Chil- 
dren under sixteen not admitted unless accompanied 
by parents or guardians.” 

“ But Fm from the Biograph Company. Fm the star 
in the picture you’re showing to-night. Look at it — 
if you have eyes!” said Mary, her Irish starting up. 

A1 Kaufmann surveyed her. “Sure you are!” he said, 
“The Biograph girl with the curls. But just the same, I 
can’t let you in. The police are getting awful strict. 
Suppose you go home and get your mother?” 

“Here Fm missing dinner to see my show,” said 
Mary, “and we’re called up again for eight. Do you 
think I’ve time to walk up to Twenty-first Street 
and get my mother and walk ’way back again ?” 

“Then there’s nothing doing!” 

“Where’s the owner of the theatre?” 

“ It’s no use calling for him. He’d tell you the same. 
We aren’t taking any risks with those reformers.” 

Now Mary’s Irish spilled over. 

“I want you to understand one thing,” she said over 
her shoulder, “Fm never coming to this house again. 
Never, never, never!” 

She kept her word. When during her term of service 
in the Biograph she found time and inclination to see 


138 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

herself on the screen, she patronized the Penny Arcade 
next door. 

So she missed her first opportunity of meeting 
Adolph Zukor, with whom she was to mount the heights 
of wealth and renown. During her term of service on 
East Fourteenth Street she never knew that he existed. 
Years later, she identified him as a pleasant, unob- 
trusive man who, when she was “working,” used often 
to stand with the knot of spectators back of the lights 
and the camera. 

Again, Adolph Zukor was learning a trade. 


CHAPTER XII 


ZUKOR PLOTS HIS FUTURE 

When the picture theatres which he owned in 
partnership with Brady began to return their twenty 
per cent, dividends, Zukor branched out for himself 
and opened two or three small houses in the poorer 
districts of New York. These also prospered. The 
tide of his affairs was flowing serenely again. He likes to 
live expansively; at every period of his fluctuating for- 
tunes he had adjusted his outgo to his income. Now, he 
moved his family to better quarters, employed a maid, 
put Eugene and Mildred into a private school. He had 
been an athlete in his youth, and that compact, per- 
fectly controlled little body of his had begun of late to 
cry out for some exercise more strenuous than walking. 
On one of his vacations in the Catskills he came for the 
first time into intimate contact with lawn tennis. The 
game fascinated him. He joined a club on Long Island; 
and although he began too late to endanger McLaughlin 
or Johnston, he worked up a passable game. 

Marcus Loew, who went into the business of exhibi- 
tion at about the same time and through the same 
curious circumstances, had in the meantime far outrun 


139 


140 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

him; for Loew started without the handicap of the mori- 
bund Hale’s Tours. Parallel with the picture craze 
ran the vaudeville craze. Loew was riding both the tides, 
but at this stage of his career, he rather favoured 
vaudeville. This, to the mind of the Broadway theatri- 
cal manager, removed the curse of the moving picture 
and gave him some standing in the world of illusions. 
Presently, his store shows sprinkled the city. Next, he 
advanced the status of the whole business by acquiring 
the Cosy Corner Theatre in Brooklyn, and turning it 
into a vaudeville-and-moving-picture house. The Loew 
heirs say that this was the first real theatre to pass into 
the hands of the moving picture. Perhaps this assertion 
might not bear investigation. But at any rate, it was 
the first in greater New York, which then even more 
than now dictated dramatic fashions to all America. 

By 1910, Loew and Zukor found that they had certain 
interests in common. Vaudeville talent, for example, 
was in demand. Neither of them owned enough houses 
to keep a “feature” busy the whole year. Cheap but 
promising talent was forever escaping to the provinces 
or the larger circuits. Zukor, Loew, and one or two 
smaller exhibitors could, if combined, run an all-year 
circuit of their own. So in 1910 was formed the Loew 
Company, with Marcus Loew president and Adolph 
Zukor nominal treasurer. Into it Zukor threw all his 
houses except the three he owned with Brady. It 
paid from the first, even better than had its units. 


ZUKOR PLOTS HIS FUTURE 141 

Now, Zukor seemed to have reached a safe and pleasant 
haven. “I could have cashed in for between three 
hundred and five hundred thousand dollars,” he says. 
Better than that, he sat securely at the centre of an 
expanding business. At his death in 1927, Marcus 
Loew left a fortune of about ^25,000,000. Some of that 
came from his later enterprises with moving-picture 
production; but the pith and fibre of it was the chain 
of “ vaudeville-and-picture theatres” which he stretched 
in the next fifteen years across the United States. Had 
Zukor transferred all his eggs to that one basket and 
kept them there, he would have acquired in the course 
of years a fortune beyond the dreams of an orphan emi- 
grant from sleepy little Ricse. 

So much for the externals. But the factor important 
to this story is what Adolph Zukor’s mind was doing 
in the period between 1907, when he cleaned up the 
indebtedness of the Hale’s Tours Company, and 1912, 
when he threw dramatically on the table his hazard of 
new fortunes. 

Having entered the moving-picture business with full 
belief in its future, he set about to learn it in all its 
departments. When, timidly and apologetically, he 
asked Griffith if he might watch his casts and cameramen 
work, the mechanics and extras about the studio thought 
that he was merely another fascinated loafer, come to 
look at the pretty girls. As unobtrusive as a piece of 
studio machinery, he loitered day after day on the out- 


142 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

skirts, noting how actors and directors produced their 
effects, studying lights and scenery. Now and then, he 
buttonholed an actor or a mechanic and asked a con- 
densed, pointed question. ... Of nights, he got out 
his old favourites of classical literature, like Pilgriin s 
Progress or The Three Musketeers^ and experimented 
with turning them into moving-picture scenarios. 

Frank Meyer had come on from St. Louis to direct a 
film agency in Fourteenth Street. The Comedy was one 
of the best customers. For two years, he thought that 
A1 Kaufmann owned the house. Then one day the little 
man who really owned it came out of his den, introduced 
himself, began subtly to cross-examine him. 

Still further: Zukor spread his education to include the 
“legitimate” theatre. His partnership gave him the 
entree to the busy Broadway offices of William A. 
Brady; eventually, he had uptown desk-room there. 
When Jessie Bonstelle sold her stage version of Little 
Women to Brady, Adolph Zukor bought a moderate 
partnership in the production. 

“I felt that the play would go,” he says, “and it did. 
But I was really investing the money in my education.” 

He took small shares in one or two other Brady 
ventures which did not do so well. But he achieved his 
main object. He was studying the spoken theatre, with 
its background of three centuries; drawing on the ac- 
cumulated experience of its managers in pleasing and 
alluring the public. And he was comparing it with the 


ZUKOR PLOTS HIS FUTURE 


143 


careless yet ossified methods of the moving-picture 
producers. 

There came a dramatic moment when William A, 
Brady discovered how much Zukor had learned. 
Brady says now, “Broadway got me for a while.” He 
had been paying more attention to the stock market 
than to the business of producing plays. One or two 
failures — and then came a crisis. Down the Great 
White Way ran the report that Bill Brady had gone 
broke. Creditors heard the whisperings and pressed in 
upon him. Brady, buckling down to his own business at 
last, struck a hasty balance between assets and liabilities 
and found himself cornered. There seemed no way out 
except bankruptcy. 

Enter now this unconsidered hanger-on of the Brady 
offices. 

“It looks bad, Billy,” said Adolph Zukor. 

“It looks rotten,” said Brady, “but how do you 
know?” 

“Tve got eyes, haven’t I.?” replied Adolph Zukor. 
“Well, it isn’t so bad as it looks. You’ve been neglect- 
ing this business, and certain people have taken ad- 
vantage of you.” 

Half of that night they sat in the office with the books. 
And as they talked, wonder grew in Brady. This partner 
in his little Fourteenth Street side-show knew more 
about the Brady business — all of it — than Brady knew 
himself. There was, for example, one pressing debt of 


144 the house that SHADOWS BUILT 

$90,000. “IVe been watching that fellow,” said Zukor. 
“You owe him about $30,000. The rest — it’s just taking 
unfair advantage.” 

Before they went to bed, Zukor had offered to go 
through the books and see exactly what could be done. 
Working fourteen hours a day, he made a digest of the 
Brady affairs so acute and yet so simple that Brady 
asked him once where and when he learned accounting. 
“Nowhere and never,” replied Zukor. This statement 
showed that if they could adjust certain false and 
fancy charges, like that item of $90,000, the assets would 
amount to seven eighths of the liabilities. Zukor volun- 
teered to make the adjustment. He succeeded so well 
that in a week Brady was going ahead with his plans 
for autumn productions as though nothing had hap- 
pened. He had two or three successes that year. They 
put him onto his feet, and he never lost his balance 
again. 

“You deserve a partnership, Adolph,” said Brady 
one day. “You can have it if you want.” 

Zukor blushed. That is the one manifestation of his 
inner sentimentalism which his native reserve has never 
managed to inhibit. But he answered merely: 

“Much obliged, Billy. I have other plans!” 

Theatrical management never attracted him. His 
connection with Brady was only a means to an end. 
The focus of his activities remained that little, crowded 


ZUKOR PLOTS HIS FUTURE 145 

playhouse in Union Square, become for him a kind of 
experimental laboratory. Still he stood at the entrance 
when the crowds emerged, picking up conversation 
with typical auditors, asking what they liked about the 
show. More and more often it was the film. 

There came at last an Imp two-reeler entitled 
Under the Sea, which for story and technical effect he 
felt excelled anything he had ever shown before. That 
week, his gossips at the door never so much as men- 
tioned the vaudeville acts. All talked of the film. When a 
one-reel version of Camille appeared in the catalogues, 
Zukor used it for an experiment. He took a versatile 
young vaudeville performer, who became afterward 
famous as Lowell Sherman, stationed him in a box be- 
side the screen, and had him talk off, in four “voices,” 
the appropriate dialogue. As in most early attempts to 
synchronize voice and vision, the result seemed some- 
how unnatural; Zukor abandoned that. 

Always he had doubted the superstition that an audi- 
ence could not keep its attention on more than two 
reels of film. In 1910, he had a chance to prove his 
skepticism. Europeans, who held no preconceived no- 
tions on the practical length of a moving-picture film, 
had reproduced the Passion Play at Oberammergau in 
three reels. Zukor ventured to buy it, at exceptional 
prices, for the New York, Boston, and Newark houses. 
Soberly and appropriately advertised at the Comedy, it 
drew full houses for a double run. No need this time to 


146 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

ask the audience what they thought of the film — a third 
of them were crying as they emerged. When he passed 
the Passion Play on to his Newark house, Zukor experi- 
mented further. He installed an organ and accompanied 
the film with a programme of sacred music. So far as he 
knows, that was the first appearance of the organ in col- 
laboration with the moving picture. A packed house was 
filing through the exits when a priest accosted Zukor. 

“This show must stop,” he said. “It is irreverent. I 
propose to see the city authorities and have your licence 
withdrawn.” Newark licensed its film houses only from 
week to week. The city fathers, who had lived through 
bitter experiences with certain improper free-lance 
films, would refuse a renewal on complaint of almost 
any reputable citizen. This, then, was no empty threat. 

“But why.?” asked Zukor. “If it does them good? 
Look at those people coming out. They’re crying!” 

“That’s perfectly true,” replied the priest. “It’s a 
beautiful picture. But a common moving-picture theatre 
is no place for it.” 

Zukor, finding himself unable to argue the subtleties 
of Christian theology and sentiment, looked his man 
over. He had a kind Irish face; under that must burn 
an Irish heart. Zukor struck at this joint in the armour. 

“I’m just a little exhibitor,” he said. “And I’ve paid 
more for this film than I’ve ever paid for any other. I’ve 
tried to do it respectfully. Look at those posters there. 
Look at the organ. I hadn’t any idea of hurting your 


ZUKOR PLOTS HIS FUTURE 147 

feelings or the feelings of your church. I thought I’d 
please you. If you get my licence withdrawn — and you 
can do it — I won’t say you’ll quite ruin me, but you’ll 
hit me a hard blow.” 

The priest’s face worked for a moment. Publicans 
and sinners . . . And the greatest of these is charity. . . . 

“All right, my boy,” he said at length. “I think I 
won’t report you !” 

Adolph Zukor had proved one point to himself. An 
audience would sit fascinated through three reels. “ But 
this is an exception,” said the doubting Thomases. 
“Religion and all that . . .” Zukor’s common sense 
told him better. Religion is not the strongest interest 
of the theatre. If that were so, Broadway would be 
showing miracle plays and mystery plays instead of 
sex and melodrama. 

Longer films, as well as better films — this idea grew 
in his mind to the point of obsession. All his group in 
Fourteenth Street, especially Frank Meyer and AI 
Kaufmann, became converts and disciples. Once, en- 
thused to the point of action, Meyer and Kaufmann 
visited Morris Kohn and invited him to back them in 
the production of long films. Kohn liked the idea. 
But just then his own affairs were tangled; he could not 
raise the ready money for such a venture. Apparently 
Zukor did not yet dare entertain the idea of producing 
himself. For all his pluck, his valorous attitude toward 
life, he has a humble mind. This manifests itself often 


148 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

in doubt of his own powers. If he began producing 
longer and better films let it be with some established 
firm which knew the ropes. 

In 1910, the Loew consolidation having rendered his 
affairs temporarily secure, Zukor took his family for 
another vacation in Europe. Carl Laemmle abode 
that summer in Wiesbaden. He, with his “Imp” 
Company, was one of the leading and progressive inde- 
pendents. For the time had come when these free lances, 
entrenched behind a barrier of legal points, were rising 
to order and respectability. Zukor travelled from Paris 
to Wiesbaden in order to unload his idea. Laemmle 
listened, and half agreed. But the time, he felt, had 
not yet come. Before attempting anything so large and 
expensive, they must establish more firmly their legal 
position. 

Refused by the independents, Zukor tried the Trust. 
When he returned to New York he managed by persua- 
sion and diplomacy to get an appointment with J. J. 
Kennedy, its genius and driving spirit. Banker, engineer, 
and fine old Irish gentleman, Kennedy had found himself 
in a position where it was necessary to fight. And fight 
he did, with fists and teeth and toenails, until the in- 
dependents regarded him as a sinister menace and the 
regulars as a crowned hero. He bestrode the moving- 
picture world like a colossus. Zukor, himself only a tiny, 
insignificant figure in the business, felt properly thrilled 
and awed. As when he found it necessary to persuade 


ZUKOR PLOTS HIS FUTURE 


149 


his guardian that he must emigrate, he lay awake of 
nights and scribbled by day in composing a selling talk. 
Promptly at ten, the hour of the appointment, he re- 
ported in Kennedy’s outer office. 

For more than two hours, the warder of greatness 
kept him waiting while the musty petitioners of the 
moving-picture houses filed in and out of that sanctum. 
When finally she admitted Zukor, Kennedy was tired; 
also he had an early luncheon engagement. And this, 
it seemed, was only another “nut” with some fantastic 
idea to improve the moving picture. For diplomacy’s 
sake, he must listen to a dozen such every week. While 
Zukor delivered himself, Kennedy watched the clock. 
The interview ended in a polite dismissal. Mr. Zukor’s 
idea was interesting, very interesting. Some day, when 
affairs were running more smoothly, the Trust might 
take the matter up again, consider it seriously. . . . 

Zukor found himself in the outer office, nursing a 
sense of bafflement. 

But it drove him back on himself. It crystallized his 
amorphic determination to enter production on his own 
account. Night after night he covered the streets of 
New York with his quick, neat pace of a frontiersman, 
thinking it out. And by the end of the year 1911, he 
had a plan and a programme from which, when the 
moment of action came, he never much deviated. 

His producing company would make “full-length” 
films — a whole evening’s entertainment. That was the 


150 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

governing principle. And, having made such films, it 
would exhibit them so far as possible in first-class 
theatres on a parity with the legitimate stage. To suc- 
ceed on this scale, they must excel not only in length but 
in quality anything that Trust or independents had 
ever done before. But American films were improving; 
Zukor could feel a rising tide which must somehow, 
somewhere break the barriers. Already the business had 
developed much talent which might go far if given its 
head. Such directors as Porter, Griffith, and Dawley 
were chafing at the limitations imposed upon them by 
men who would never understand — praying for a 
chance. Actors, real actors who understood the tech- 
nique of the screen, had begun to emerge from the ruck; 
not only Mary Pickford but Costello, the Gish sisters, 
and “Bronco Billy.” They, too, quarrelled with the 
trivial scraps of story which they were given to inter- 
pret, and above all with their forced anonymity. 

As for the vital basis of this trade — the story — 
producers had been working with thirty-dollar scenarios. 
And there were the wonder-stories of twenty centuries 
and twenty races awaiting interpretation by this new 
medium. To Zukor, as I have said before, the mode of 
telling a story, whether by prose, poetry, drama, or 
pantomime, is immaterial. His mind darts to the es- 
sential, even when he considers art. Only, to translate 
and adapt great stories from one medium to the other 
would take brains. Well-skilled dramatists, expert story- 


ZUKOR PLOTS HIS FUTURE 151 

tellers crowded Broadway. Some of them, if you made 
the rewards attractive enough, would learn the trick. 

This was his working theory; the basis of his plan. It 
looks obvious now. So, to the mediaeval Spanish 
peasant or the ancient Irish kern, gazing at the Atlantic, 
it should have seemed obvious that these waters had a 
Western shore. . . . 

But first, you must give this business some dignity; 
wipe away that contempt in which the American 
public held the “movie”; kill the slum tradition. In 
the very institution which had been the vessel of scorn 
he saw the instrument of rehabilitation — the legitimate 
stage. If the stage relented, the public would follow. 
Present some recently successful Broadway drama in 
film with the original actors, and the prejudice would 
begin to falter; present a succession of them, and it 
would die. Stars and dramatists had probably no aver- 
sions to the film which money would not overcome. 
And one night, meditating in his office before a scratch- 
pad, he put down the motto which his banners bore in 
so many subsequent years of battle — “Famous Players 
in Famous Plays.” 

This, however, was to be not a means but an end. 
He appreciated the subtle difference between stage 
acting and screen acting. The talent which would 
make the business great must come eventually not 
from Broadway but from Fourteenth Street. “Famous 
Players in Famous Plays” would be merely a bridge 


152 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

between two eras. After the sensational rise of the film- 
trained Mary Pickford, after Zukor entered this third 
and last stage of his programme, critics said that it all 
came about accidentally; that Zukor, working the thin 
placer streak of the legitimate stage, stumbled upon the 
mother-lode. From his old confidants of this brain- 
ridden period, I know better. He planned it from the 
first. 

It would take money, more money than any pro- 
ducer had ever dreamed of spending on the films. To get 
Broadway stars he must pay better than Broadway 
prices. He intended, of course, to kill the old anonymity 
of screen actors, to advertise and exploit them after the 
fashion of Broadway managers. That would involve big 
overhead charges. Night after night he covered his 
scratch-pad with figures. He must throw in everything 
he had — and more. He planned to form at least a 
temporary partnership with some Broadway manager 
whose prestige would draw the star actors and give the 
stamp of respectability. He could hardly expect this 
partner, taking chances with his reputation, to add to 
the obligation by investing money. There remained only 
the banks. 

Ever since he entered the amusement business, he had 
deposited with the Irving National Bank; Vice-Presi- 
dent Lee, who attended to loans, had become in the 
course of years his esteemed personal friend. This credit 
expert, skilled in weighing the honesty and ability of 


ZUKOR PLOTS HIS FUTURE 153 

men, had, it seemed, perceived the genius for affairs 
in this small Fourteenth Street exhibitor. Zukor un- 
loaded his idea in full — laid all his cards on the table. 
Laughed out of court by his own trade, he found a 
hospitable mind in the outsider. Lee came to believe in 
the plan, as he believed already in its author. He prom- 
ised reasonable credits. 

Zukor was drawing a full breath to take the leap, 
when luck hurled him — somewhat prematurely — over 
the verge. 


CHAPTER XIII 


ENTER SARAH BERNHARDT 

6^0 WIN S. Porter, he who produced The Great 
Train Robbery, was working in 1912 as director of the 
Rex Company, leading independents. With Griffith 
and Dawley, he stood perhaps at the head of his pro- 
fession. Though business policy held him down to one- 
and two-reelers, he enjoyed such merited reputation 
that Rex, alone of all the independents, had been in- 
vited to accept licence from the Trust — and had de- 
clined with sarcastic thanks. Zukor, in process of get- 
ting his education with the motion picture, visited the 
Rex studios; on the strength of his burning admiration 
for The Great Train Robbery he struck up an acquaint- 
ance with its director. When the idea of longer and 
better films began to mount to an obsession, he talked 
it all over with Porter. The director proved more than 
sympathetic. He was himself railing at the limitations of 
the one-reeler. 

Europe, as I have said before, had no superstitions 
about the practical length of moving-picture films. Nor 
did the legitimate stage, over there, regard it with scorn. 
At this very moment, the Italians were preparing to pro- 
duce in five or six reels Gabiria, a tale of ancient Rome 

IS 4 


ENTER SARAH BERNHARDT 


155 


whose sheer beauty no subsequent film has much ex- 
celled. In France, the aged Sarah Bernhardt had turned 
on this new medium of expression her flame-like intelli- 
gence. It exorcised, she told the Parisian reporters, that 
old curse on the actor’s art — its impermanence. When 
the cameramen persuaded her to stand model for two 
or three short films, she said: “This is my one chance for 
immortality.” Queen Elizabeth^ a drama described by its 
title, was her last full-length play. Old, so lame that she 
must needs invent new stage business to conceal her 
painful limp, she played it nevertheless with all her ac- 
customed fire. As this play began to run down, Louis 
Mercanton, a Parisian producer, filmed it in four reels. 
He brought to bear the best photography and lighting 
that France knew; Bernhardt, an artist in every fibre, 
planned its adaptation to the film. Technically, it ex- 
celled any previous effort. And Bernhardt, with her defi- 
nite features, her wealth of expression, and her mastery 
of gesture, screened well. 

Already there was considerable traffic in films back 
and forth across the Atlantic. While the little houses of 
France, Belgium, and Italy dressed up their programmes 
with “Westerns,” the Europeans long held the favour- 
able balance of trade. For one thing, they were making 
better films. Then, too, the Trust, having few European 
patents, granted licence on request to European films. 
P'ree-lance exhibitors and agents were already taking 
advantage of this loophole. Frank Brockliss, an Ameri- 


iS6 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

can engaged in the primitive business of distributing 
moving pictures abroad, saw the show in London. 
The American rights were going begging. He wrote all 
this to Joseph Engel of the Rex Company. Engel told 
Porter, who saw that it fitted exactly into Zukor’s 
programme. Porter passed the word along. Before it 
reached Zukor, Engel had bought an option on the 
American rights. Zukor called him up on the telephone. 

“It’s the greatest feature ever presented in America,” 
said Engel. 

“They always are,” replied Zukor. “How much do 
you want r” 

“Thirty-five thousand dollars,” said Engel; “half 
down, the balance when the returns come in.” 

Zukor’s next words almost caused Engel to drop the 
telephone receiver. He had quoted a top price, expect- 
ing to haggle. And this small exhibitor had answered: 

“All right. I’ll take it.” 

For Zukor, on his part, was actually afraid that 
Queen Elizabeth would slip out of his hands. From the 
moment when Porter’s message reached him, he per- 
ceived that this was a Heaven-sent opportunity. He 
wanted to establish the habit of long films. This ran the 
unprecedented length of four reels. He wanted to give 
the motion picture respectability by dragging into its 
scope the big figures of the stage. And here came Bern- 
hardt. 

Perhaps a historian of those times must inform the 


ENTER SARAH BERNHARDT 


157 


young reader that Bernhardt occupied in the interna- 
tional theatre a position such as no actor has ever held 
before or since. She was more than queen of the stage; 
she was its empress, almost its goddess. France had 
loaded on her all the honours of the Republic. When 
she made her farewell tour of America, the Players, 
oldest and most traditional of actors’ clubs, broke its 
rule against admitting women except on Ladies’ Day, 
and gave her a reception. Bernhardt was above all rules. 
Now let the minor luminaries scorn the motion picture! 

Before two days, the news had saturated the motion- 
picture business; by the week-end it had reached the 
provincial, nervous, gossiping circle of Broadway. 
Zukor, said Fourteenth Street, had bought that high- 
brow Bernhardt film for thirty-five thousand dollars — 
which rumour presently exaggerated to fifty thousand. 
He’d been talking a little crazily of late. Fie must have 
gone clean over the line! Broadway joined in the laugh. 
It was the first time that most of the gossips, passing 
the joke through the theatrical clubs and the white-light 
bars, had ever heard the name of Adolph Zukor. 

Busy days now; too busy to dwell on the desperate 
chances he was taking! For Adolph Zukor was not 
putting forth Queen Elizabeth as a mere experiment. 
He had passed that stage. When years later someone 
asked him the old, bromidic question, “To what do you 
attribute your success ?” he answered : “ I merely rode a 
tide.” The motion picture was ready to break through 


iS8 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

artificial barriers. As soon as Queen Elizabeth proved 
to the motion-picture world that an audience could 
keep its attention on a long film and to the theatrical 
w'orld that the camera did not taint the reputation of a 
star, a dozen others, with financial resources such as 
he could never command, might start from the mark. 

While he waited for the little tin cylinders to arrive 
by mail steamer, he took a modest office in the Times 
Building which towered symbolically over the theatrical 
district, and incorporated the Famous Players Com- 
pany. In the past two years he had thought everything 
out, even to the details of his personal life. To be pros- 
perous on Broadway you must look prosperous. He 
bought at once his first motor car, and moved from 
his modest flat to an apartment in West Eighty-eighth 
Street where there was room and equipment for enter- 
taining. Then he began search for a partner and chap- 
eron — some established theatrical manager. 

Old friendship as well as his judgment of men led him 
first to the popular, expansive, and venturesome 
William A. Brady. He got a hearing, of course; the 
rescue of the business was still gratefully fresh in 
Brady’s memory. Zukor, in the days when he talked 
“longer and better films” to any listener, had unloaded 
his ideas on his partner. He needed only to add that 
the Queen Elizabeth film gave him an exceptional, a provi- 
dential opening. 

But Brady shook his head. “Adolph, I’m just on my 


ENTER SARAH BERNHARDT 


IS9 

feet again, thanks to you,” he said. “Besides,” he 
added, “when I married Grace George, I promised Fd 
stop promoting prize fights.” 

Zukor took this last for the joke that it was. But he 
answered: “You won’t feel that way about it in two 
years, Billy.” 

“Perhaps not,” said Brady. Then he grew serious. “I 
want to stand on what I said, nevertheless. There’s a 
time to take chances and a time to pull in and go slow. 
Of course, you’ve done more for me than any other 
man alive. . . .” (“And when I said this,” remarked 
Brady fifteen years later, “he looked as shy as a girl 
getting her first proposal.”) “Fll tell you what Fll do 
though; if you can’t get anyone else, Fll stand by you — 
of course.” 

“Much obliged,” said Zukor, “but I am thinking of 
trying Dan Frohman.” 

“Dan Frohman!” exclaimed Brady, and gave an 
incredulous whistle. 

It did look a little preposterous. At that moment, 
the Frohman brothers, Charles and Daniel, stood with 
Belasco as chief pillars of the artistic theatre. They, if 
anyone, had a right to look down from the pinnacles of 
Broadway on the fens and dumps of Fourteenth Street. 
But Zukor had a fortunate opening to their attention. 
When the small exhibitors formed the Loew Company, 
Elek J. Ludvigh became its attorney. He also rep- 
resents that Hungarian strain so powerful in the 


i6o THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

modern motion-picture business. He was bom in New 
York a year after his parents emigrated from Hungary. 
By one of those matrimonial alliances which clutter 
this story, he had become cousin-in-law to the Froh- 
mans. At Zukor’s request, he had seen Dan Frohman 
and planted the seed. William Morris, the vaudeville 
manager, added his good offices. 

Zukor picked Dan Frohman rather than Charles for 
sound but various reasons. The Frohman brothers were 
not a partnership; they had kept their separate identi- 
ties. At the moment Charles, what with the success of 
Barrie and Maud Adams, soared high; while Daniel, to 
express the situation in the dialect of Broadway, had 
“pulled off a string of flops.” He was at the nadir of his 
career; in the mood for a hazard of new fortunes. Also, 
Daniel Frohman has the golden gift of friendship. Men 
and women both like him on sight for his easy geniality, 
his wit, and his heart. His romantic quarters above the 
L3'^ceum Theatre are plastered with the photographs of 
stage people from Bernhardt and Irving down to humble 
understudies; and their autographed dedications seem to 
ring with affectionate appreciation. The circle of his 
friendships extended beyond his own profession to the 
other arts. Most usefully, he was on house-guest terms 
with some of the most popular authors of the period. 

Though Daniel Frohman, with his capacity for ab- 
sorbing gossip, had heard of Zukor, it was their first 
meeting. After some shy preliminaries, Zukor opened 



Sarah Bernhardt in Queen Elizabeth, the first poster ever made 
for the Famous Players Fihn Company 





The old Twenty-sixth Street studio rebuilt. This photograph was taken 
after the top of the building containing the studio had been rebuilt, fol- 


ENTER SARAH BERNHARDT i6i 

up his mind and talked as he can when he comes to 
the crux of a situation — clearly, logically, all data di- 
gested, all contingencies foreseen. Frohman began to 
like him, and gave hospitable attention. Zukor had 
guessed shrewdly on the state of his worldly affairs. 
“I’m in a venturesome mood,” said Frohman. “Prob- 
ably I’m going to take you up. But I can’t put in any 
money.” 

That was a minor disappointment; Zukor had hoped 
for a little accession to his slender capital. But the 
Frohman name and influence were the main thing, after 
all. In that one session, they struck a bargain. Frohman, 
for his services and his name, was to receive a block of 
stock in the company. “Gambling my fair reputation 
against a fortune,” he said. 

That night he broke the news to his brother. Charles 
had a crusty side. “He couldn’t have been more dis- 
gusted,” writes Terry Ramsaye, “if his brother had 
opened a hot-dog stand at Coney Island.” 

Daniel Frohman established a desk in the little office 
of the Times Building and began to circulate through his 
world. Zukor, by way of raising capital, sold most of his 
outside enterprises except his share in the Loew Com- 
pany. Then he set himself to gathering a working staff. 
A1 Kaufmann, who had risen with him and shared his 
enthusiasm, was to be production manager — his re- 
ward the same salary which he got as manager of the 
Comedy, plus a share in the business. On like terms, 


i 62 the house that SHADOWS BUILT 

Frank Meyer, who had a bent for applied science, took 
service as mechanical superintendent. Zukor intended to 
exploit his stars on theatrical terms; he needed a good 
press agent. Ben Schulberg, then advertising agent for 
the independent Rex Company, had come favourably 
to his attention as a young man of force and energy. 
Ever since the films began modestly to exploit them- 
selves, Schulberg had starred in moving-picture journal- 
ism — always on the independent side. He was receiving 
fifty dollars a week, and troubling the management 
weekly with appeals for a raise. Porter sent him to 
Zukor; and in the little office of the Times Building he 
faced for the first time that spruce figure, those kindly 
but inscrutable hazel eyes. 

“I want to offer you a job,” said Zukor. “Porter, I 
believe, has told you the details. What are you drawing 
down from Rex?” 

“ Fifty dollars a week,” replied Schulberg. “ But I’ve 
good prospects there, and besides it’s an established 
firm. Your scheme is a long chance. I’d expect to be 
paid for giving up a sure thing.” 

“How much?” 

“Two hundred dollars a week,” said Schulberg, in- 
hibiting an impulse to gulp. 

“Are you a gambler?” asked Zukor. 

“What do you mean — gambler?” 

“ I mean I’m not going to offer you any better salary 
than you’re getting. But I’m going to ask you to 


ENTER SARAH BERNHARDT 163 

gamble with me — and FlI pay for the chips. I’ll give you 
fifty dollars a week and two hundred shares of stock in 
Famous Players. You know how big this thing is going 
to be if it succeeds. If it fails, it will fail just as big. 
Meantime — you’ll be making as good a salary as you 
get from Rex.” 

“Which will go up if the company gets prosperous?” 
enquired Schulberg. 

“Oh, certainly!” 

All his life, Schulberg had longed for a little capital. 
Two hundred shares in anything seemed a glittering 
prospect. He accepted, and left the office wondering if 
he was really a good gambler or only a bedazzled fool. 

A stroke of luck with human material completed 
the office force. All this time, Zukor and his associates 
were distributing Queen Elizabeth. For this purpose 
he had formed the temporary Enghandine Company; 
to describe the complexities of this business would only 
clog my narrative. They needed a good “road” sales- 
man to deal with the interior cities; and none good 
enough seemed momentarily available in the business 
itself. By now, Schulberg had begun by diplomacy and 
device to sprinkle trade journals and general news- 
papers with news of “Famous Players in Famous 
Plays.” 

Back from the road came Alexander Lichtmann. He, 
like all others who created the new era of the film, 
reached the business from much coming and going on 


i64 the house that SHADOWS BUILT 

the earth. He had been a barnstorming actor, a private 
in the United States Army, and finally had stumbled 
into film salesmanship. Underneath the fulsome notices 
of the Famous Players he sensed a desperate gamble. 
He liked that. He called on Zukor, “sold himself.” 
The preliminary orders for Queen Elizabeth had gone so 
badly as to cause Zukor considerable worry. A 1 Licht- 
mann infused the project with new life. To finish with 
this part of the business: the enterprise paid in dollars 
and cents, adding something to Zukor’s carefully 
guarded capital. Also, it fulfilled its primary purpose. 
The states’ rights buyers, coached and persuaded by the 
resourceful, energetic Lichtmann, adopted the policy of 
reselling for exhibition in regular theatres at theatrical 
prices. In one stroke, it opened for the motion picture a 
channel from the slums to the heart of cities. 

Meantime, on July 12, 1912, Zukor and Frohman 
exhibited Queen Elizabeth in New York. Frohman had 
persuaded his brother, now melting a little toward this 
daring new departure, to grant the use of the sacrosanct 
Lyceum Theatre for a special invitation matinee per- 
formance. This setting alone gave it the seal of dramatic 
respectability. In July, almost all Who’s Who in New 
York have fled to the seashore or to Europe. Neverthe- 
less, dozens of literary, artistic, and dramatic figures 
came back for the day to the hot city “just to help 
Dan out”; the list of names made a brave showing in 
next day’s notices. There came also the lords of the 


ENTER SARAH BERNHARDT 


i6s 

motion picture. A minority, arguing out the matter in 
the lobbies, called it a historic occasion. An audience 
had sat entranced through four reels; had at the end 
applauded as though Bernhardt were present in the 
flesh. The longer and more expensive film — already de- 
nominated the “feature” — ^was on the way. But the 
majority, including officials of the Trust, said that Bern- 
hardt was Bernhardt; when this fellow Zukor tried it 
with ordinary actors of ordinary reputation, they saw his 
finish. 

Already Famous Players was producing for itself. 
A1 Kaufmann had selected for studios the two top floors 
of an old armoury in West Twenty-sixth Street; Frank 
Meyer had rushed the instalment of working equip- 
ment. Shrewdly and generously, Zukor had formed his 
important artistic staff. Edwin S. Porter, always more 
interested in the job than in its financial rewards, 
needed little urging; stock in the company, a modest 
salary, and a chance at “big” pictures brought him in. 
J. Searle Dawley, too, jumped at the chance. Zukor 
wanted Griffith; but Biograph, knowing well what an 
asset he was, had tied down the pioneer of Fourteenth 
Street with a contract. 

All this time, Frohman was employing his energy, 
personality, and resourcefulness in rounding up actors 
and productions. The first to listen to reason was James 
O’Neill. This age celebrates him as father of our most 
honoured American playwright. In his own time, all the 


i66 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


provinces knew him for his thirty-year run of The Count 
of Monte Cristo, which he had played in glittering 
opera houses, intimate small-town theatres, circus tents, 
barns, even the open air. This piece would make a 
splendid bridge between the famous European players 
and the famous American players whom the company 
intended to exploit. James O’Neill seldom played in 
New York and so he had escaped the Broadway prej- 
udices. The slack summer season was coming on. This 
offered a chance to make some extra money. He needed 
little persuading. 

Then James K. Hackett listened. He had been in his 
youth the matinee idol of Broadway. As his hair began 
to thin and his features to sharpen, he took up Shake- 
speare and romantic “ costume” drama. The Prisoner of 
Zenduy his latest offering, had just finished a long run. 
Hackett had in him a streak of independence; he rather 
liked to quarrel with the majority. Also, it was a lark. 
He and most of his company signed for an immediate 
production. 

The studio forces in West Twenty-sixth Street burst 
now into activity. In less than two weeks from the 
first “shot” to the last cutting. Porter filmed a four- 
reel version of Monte Cristo. Then he rushed ahead on 
Zenda. The action involved swimming a moat. This 
called for a tank. The floor of the old armoury was frail. 
Frank Meyer found by measure and calculation that it 
would stand only a foot and a half of water. Even then. 


ENTER SARAH BERNHARDT 167 

he trembled whenever a visitor entered the studio, lest 
it be a building inspector. When Hackett swam the 
moat, he crawled on the zinc bottom, giving an imitation 
of an overhand stroke. The production cost seven 
thousand dollars — an unprecedented sum. 

Frohman was arranging for a “promotional” show- 
ing of Monte Cristo on Broadway when the opposition 
hit the new company a sinister jab. Experience had long 
ago taught the motion-picture business that you cannot 
keep a studio secret. Too many people of too many 
sorts are involved in a production — mechanics, camera- 
men, actors, directors, extras, even the distributing 
forces, which must know in advance the company’s 
plans. O’Neill had scarcely signed his contract when 
the gossipy breezes of Broadway carried the news to the 
governing powers of the motion picture. A Trust firm 
in Chicago started from the mark with a three-reel 
version of Monte Cristo. Zukor and his associates had 
adapted the play, which stood protected by copyright. 
But Dumas’s novel, being a classic, was immune from 
such protection. These rivals made their scenario from 
the novel direct, and stood scatheless before the law. 
Just when Monte Cristo was titled and ready for trans- 
formation into positive prints, the news reached Zukor 
and Frohman. In both minds it created the same reac- 
tion. They could not now put forth Monte Cristo as 
their first American feature. They must begin with a 
splash, a bang — ^with the unprecedented feature. This 


i68 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


Chicago version, inferior though it probably was, would 
take the edge off their production. In one hasty con- 
ference they decided to send it to the storehouse for 
later release, and to substitute Zenda. 

The initial, promotional showing of Zenda came off 
in the autumn, after Who’s Who in New York returned 
to town. Deliberately Frohman made this an invitation 
affair and set his showing in the afternoon, when the 
people of the theatre might attend. He and Hackett 
drew in all their acquaintances of the artistic clubs 
and of the stage. Ben Schulberg, publicity agent, had 
done his job so well that the political and financial 
celebrities who received invitations deemed this new 
thing worthy of their attention. Never before had the 
rays of the motion-picture projector crowned so bril- 
liant an audience. Seldom, indeed, had the spoken stage 
seen the like. And the picture made an unprecedented 
hit. Rightly so; spite of the divine Sarah, it came 
nearer to telling a story, conveying emotion to an 
audience, even than Queen Elizabeth. We should call it 
archaic and inexpressive nowadays. 

Just as the orchestra finished the overture and while 
the audience was waiting for the curtain, Dan Frohman 
stepped to the footlights for a little speech. 

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I have the honour 
to announce that the General Film Company has 
licensed this production. Mr. Zukor has just received 
the news by telephone.” 


ENTER SARAH BERNHARDT 169 

Leading actors, popular authors, and prominent 
bankers sat puzzled at the prolonged applause which 
broke out from spots in the orchestra and balcony. It 
came from the independent film producers, who alone 
understood what this announcement signified. Zukor 
and Frohman had been walking on the edge of disaster; 
and disaster was now averted, at least temporarily. 


CHAPTER XIV 


EDISON WRITES A LETTER 

^HEN he planned his revolution in the business of 
making motion pictures, Zukor had faced and ac- 
knowledged one cardinal trick. The Trust stood in his 
way, as in that of every independent with a new idea. 
“If you can’t bust a trust, join it; if you can’t join it, 
bust it,” said business men in those days. Zukor cher- 
ished no moral abhorrence to trusts. Indeed he preferred 
that the lords of industry should take him into their 
circle of nine or ten approved companies. Otherwise, he 
might expect both a nasty fight involving heavy legal 
expenses and an artificially restricted market among 
distributors and exhibitors. To insure himself against 
this contingency, he had engaged as attorney for his 
new company the shrewd and theatre-wise Elek J. 
Ludvigh. 

However, he faced the battle with considerable hope. 
The Trust had of late appealed more and more to public 
opinion. “We present the best films, and clean films,” 
said its publicity agents. He proposed to offer more 
ambitious films than the Trust dreamed of. If it re- 
fused them licence, it put itself in an illogical position. 
The enemy might command the heavier battalions, 

170 


EDISON WRITES A LETTER 


171 


but he had most of the ammunition. Working sixteen 
hours a day at his complex task of organization, Zukor 
stored this worry in the cellar of his mind. He would 
cross the bridge when he cam: to it. 

As he prepared to exploit and exhibit Zenda^ the 
bridge began to look more and more like a barrier. Fol- 
lowing its precedent, the Trust had licenced Queen 
Elizabeth as a foreign film. Zenda^ made by an upstart 
company on American soil, stood in a different category. 
Ludvigh and Frohman put out feelers, and got no satis- 
faction either of approval or disapproval. But that 
incident of a rival Monte Cristo gave a sinister indica- 
tion. The day of Zenda’s promotional showing arrived; 
and still the Trust had not spoken. The personnel of the 
Famous Players entered the Lyceum Theatre that 
afternoon in a state of tense anxiety. Zukor, looking 
over the assembling audience, imagined that every male 
spectator was a process server waiting to tag him with 
an injunction. 

However, the Trust was not holding its peace merely 
by way of dangling Famous Players on the string. 
There were divided counsels in its directorate. One 
minority faction believed with Zukor that refusal of a 
licence would alienate public opinion. Another had 
itself been urging longer and better films; it saw in 
Zenda, as in Queen Elizahethy a stimulus from the out- 
side. The Trust, with the inertia of a business grown 
soggy through prosperity, characteristically delayed 


172 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

action until the last moment. As the doorkeepers un- 
locked the Lyceum Theatre for that vital matinee per- 
formance, its directors were considering the problem at 
luncheon. And the two minorities, acting together, won 
the day. They resolved to licence Zenda, with the 
canny reservation that this action must not be con- 
sidered a precedent. 

One of the directors, appreciating the anxiety 
at the Lyceum Theatre, had promised to telephone 
news of the final decision. At half-past two the audience 
was assembled, but the telephone rang not. At a 
quarter of three the house began to grow impatient. 

“What shall we do?” whispered Frohman. 

“Run it, licence or no licence,” responded Zukor. 

Then, just as the operator lit up his booth, came the 
good news. 

So far, so good. But the Famous Players, which in- 
tended to produce films continuously, could not go on 
through the fogs of such uncertainty. Ludvigh, Froh- 
man, and Zukor began pressure for a continuous licenc- 
ing arrangement. The Trust refused to commit itself. 
Then Frohman thought of Thomas A. Edison. He it was 
who, taking many ideas from many sources and adding 
a few of his own, harmonized them to make the practical 
moving-picture camera. The American public, indeed, 
credited him with the entire invention. So far as he 
was still involved in the motion picture, his interests 
lay with the Trust. I need not dwell on his personal 


EDISON WRITES A LETTER 


173 


prestige. A word from him might melt all opposition. 
If that failed, and they had to draw the public into the 
game, his support would be the ace of trumps. 

Frohman went over to the laboratory at East Orange, 
and gained an audience with the Wizard. Into Edison’s 
best ear he poured the story of an enterprise which was 
going to lift the moving picture to new heights of art, 
usefulness, and profit. All they needed was a licence. 
And Edison’s influence could accomplish it. 

“Well what, speaking specifically, can I do for you?” 
asked Edison. 

“Give me a letter to the Motion-Picture Patents 
Company, asking them to licence our product,” replied 
Frohman. 

Edison pulled up a laboratory scratch-pad, wrote a 
brief note, handed it to Frohman. As he took it Frohman 
had to control the trembling of his fingers; and a minute 
later he was controlling the muscles of his face. It was a 
coldly formal letter of the kind which a man of affairs 
writes when he cannot refuse a request and yet does 
not want to commit himself. As a weapon against the 
Trust, it was worse than useless. Thinking quickly, 
Frohman determined to get Edison into a more genial 
mood before telling him all this. And his mind flew to 
the past. 

“I was Horace Greeley’s office boy on the old New 
York Tribune” he began. “And I used to see you when 
you were a newspaper telegrapher.” 


174 the house that SHADOWS BUILT 

Edison started from the mark, recalling old anecdotes 
of Greeley, Bennett, of dead-and-gone mutual ac- 
quaintances, and humorous incidents remembered from 
his days at the key. Warming up, he passed on to his 
beginnings as an inventor. Presently he was telling, with 
some lingering resentment, how a company which con- 
trolled an inferior product had killed one of his early in- 
ventions. Here was an opening. Frohman wriggled 
through it for a touchdown. 

“Don’t you see, Mr. Edison,” he interrupted, “that 
we’re exactly in the same fix to-day as you were then?” 

“Well, I’ve written you a letter, haven’t I ?” inquired 
Edison. “What more can I do?” 

“Make it strong,” said Frohman. “Look at it! 
That won’t get us anything.” 

Edison reread his note and smiled. But he hesitated. 

“Exactly the same fix you were in!” repeated Froh- 
man. 

“I guess you’re right,” replied Edison suddenly. 
“Here goes again.” 

In the second letter he committed himself definitely 
to the cause of the Famous Players; asked and advised 
his associates to grant it every possible favour. Using 
Edison as a lever, Frohman and Zukor pried from the 
Trust a permanent licence at the standard fee — half a 
cent a foot. 

So, in a manner of speaking, Zukor entered the 
Trust. Also — though this was not his intention — he 


EDISON WRITES A LETTER 


175 


broke the Trust. Having admitted this exponent of more 
ambitious films, it could not in reason refuse licences to 
other newcomers with a superior product. From that 
time forth, it cut less and less figure in the world of 
shadows. The tide of progress had overrun all the 
artificial barriers. By 1913 the distinction between 

regulars” and “independents” had grown hazy. By 
1915, when the courts finally dissolved the combina- 
tion, the line had disappeared. Generally, those who 
were lords of the motion picture before 1912 retired to 
live happily ever after on comfortable fortunes. Leader- 
ship of the newer and greater era passed to those who 
had been least of their vassals — the little five-cent, 
store-show exhibitors and agents of the back streets. 
Here the Trust virtually disappears from this story. 

The names of Bernhardt and Hackett had made 
magic, as expected. The spoken theatre was nodding to 
its hoyden cousin. Dan Frohman worked day and night 
to shove the movement along. Every fine afternoon he 
brought parties of dramatic, social, and literary celeb- 
rities to the cluttered studio in West Twenty-sixth 
Street and displayed to them the novel spectacle of 
films in the making. Some daring debutante asked for 
a chance with the extra girls, which Frohman graciously 
granted. It became fashionable; certain mobs of the old 
Famous Players productions look like a garden party 
at Tuxedo. More practically, Frohman was making 


176 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

headway in securing famous plays and players. Minnie 
Maddern Fiske does her own thinking. After she saw the 
studio at work and heard the plan, she agreed to be 
filmed in Tess of the D’Urbervilles^ probably her greatest 
popular success. At that period in his career, John 
Barrymore regarded the drama lightly; he was always 
on the point of packing up his costumes and taking to 
cartooning. A liberal offer brought him in. Lillie Langtry, 
being British, had no preconceived prejudices; she 
signed a contract. 

Also, Zukor himself had secured Mary Bickford; and 
fortune so managed the affair that she, above all other 
actors, bridged for him the gulf between the “movies’* 
and the “legit.” When her engagement as Betty in 
The Warrens of Virginia drew to its close, Belasco told 
her that, while child actresses were but little in de- 
mand, she should have the next chance with him. 
Thereupon, as related, she became the “Girl with the 
Curls,” and “Little Mary” for Biograph. In 1911, 
Belasco, preparing The Good Little Devif wanted an 
emotional ingenue for the leading part of the blind 
girl. He had been watching Mary Bickford’s success in 
the films, noting how she had developed. He engaged her, 
and The Good Little Devil was a major hit of the season. 
The piece had closed now; and Mary Bickford was in 
process of deciding between the screen and the footlights 
when Zukor sent for her. She reports that as she entered 
the office she saw Al Kaufmann sitting in the comer. 


EDISON WRITES A LETTER 


177 


*‘Oh,” she said resentfully, “you’re the man who 
threw me out of your theatre because I was too young 
to see myself on the film!” 

But she listened to Zukor. He intended to buy the 
screen rights of The Good Little Devil, and wanted Mary 
Pickford as star. “And I mean star,” he said. “You’ll 
have your own name on the titles and the paper.” 

Mary Pickford, who is herself a shrewd bargainer, felt 
an impulse to close with him at once. However, she 
choked it back and argued the question. She had made 
the jump to the legitimate stage, she said; Belasco prom- 
ised her a great future. She didn’t know. . . . 

“Would twenty thousand dollars a year salary tempt 
you?” asked Zukor. “Of course, I don’t intend to stop 
with The Good Little Devil. I want you as a steady 
feature.” 

Now in all these hard years on the road Mary Pick- 
ford had held before the eyes of her imagination one 
goal. It was to earn twenty thousand dollars a year 
before she was twenty years old. “I made a little song 
of it,” she says. “‘Twenty thousand before I am twenty 
— twenty thousand before I am twenty!’” That would 
keep everyone in comfort. Time and again she had re- 
hearsed the items to herself. And here she was, only 
nineteen I 

“It would,” she said suddenly. Before she left the 
office she had signed an agreement. 

When they approached Belasco for the rights to 


178 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

The Good Little Devil he glowed to the proposal. While 
motion-picture production did not allure him, he had 
never cherished the conventional prejudice against the 
film, else he would not have reengaged Mary Pickford 
after her long career with the Biograph. Zukor had a 
daring idea — begin The Good Little Devil with Belasco 
in his study, reading the manuscript of the play while 
the wraiths of the characters floated past him. With 
all his own dramatic graciousness, Belasco accepted. 
And at the moment, he stood to America as the leading 
exponent of the artistic theatre. 

Finally, and somewhat later in the game, Daniel 
Frohman, strolling one day into his brother’s office, 
stumbled against a financial conference. 

“ Raise me some ready money at once,” Charles was 
saying to his treasurer. “I’ve been expanding too fast 
this season.” 

Daniel tiptoed out. Returning, he laid a check for 
$25,000 on his brother’s desk. 

“What’s that for .'“’’enquired Charles. 

“An option on the picture rights to all your Barrie 
productions,” said Daniel. 

“All right!” replied Charles, without a moment’s 
hesitation. And he dropped the check into a drawer. 

The ghost of an old prejudice was forever laid. The 
footlights at last accepted the screen on terms of social 
equality. Where the stage led, presumably the public 
would follow. Zukor had attained his first objective. 


CHAPTER XV 


THE LOW SPOT 

a time, everyone concerned in this new venture 
was busy and very happy with the glow of initial suc- 
cess. These pioneers remember especially the halcyon 
nights in Daniel Frohman’s suite over the Lyceum 
Theatre. There, directors, principal actors, and manage- 
ment met to thrash out the work for the next day. That 
important cog in the moving-picture machine, the 
“continuity writer,” was not yet invented. In collabo- 
ration, they hammered theatrical form into motion- 
picture form — Porter, Dawley, the star of the current 
feature, Frohman, Zukor, Mrs. Zukor. Usually Mary 
Pickford came, whether the production was hers or not. 
Young though she was, she had a sure grasp on the 
technique of screen acting and screen effects. 

Often when the symposium dragged itself out, Froh- 
man sent downstairs for supper and, still absorbed in 
discussion, they sat until they had to grope their way 
out of doors through the darkened lobbies; for the 
performance below had ended hours before. Frohman 
has in this suite what he calls his “magic box” — a chute 
which, when the cover is lifted, looks down on the stage 

of the Lyceum and transmits every accent of the actors. 

179 


i8o THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


A group momentarily out of the discussion would some- 
times open the magic box and let in distant music of 
mellow voices speaking Barrie. 

Wherever Zukor sits, he becomes eventually head of 
the table. His, in these discussions, was the final voice. 
Even the directors admitted that he gave them original 
suggestions. He arrived tired with an inhuman day’s 
work; but when Mrs. Zukor tried to drag him home, 
he protested that these symposiums freshened him up. 
At that period — and even to-day — the actual produc- 
.tion of films focussed all his ambitions. His ten hours of 
managing finances and business details were only pre- 
liminary work. When he got Famous Players firmly on 
its feet, he would proceed to make himself the Belasco 
of the screen. 

Life balked that ambition, continued to balk it. It is 
his one failure in material achievement. Before Famous 
Players had been running three months, there came 
need for genius in financing, direction, and management; 
and no one else in the combination fulfilled those terms. 
As in the next few years the screen went on to its 
unimagined destinies, that need increased. Gradually 
and reluctantly, Zukor passed from art to finance. 

For the tide he was riding had swollen to a point 
where it threatened to swamp him. That twelvemonth 
which began in the summer of 1912 had seen the birth 
of a new screen. Others were following Zukor, even as he 
anticipated. And the repressed waters had broken 


THE LOW SPOT 


i8i 


through in other places; even the two-reelers began to 
make history. A young truck horse of the vaudeville 
stage named Charlie Chaplin accepted with some mis- 
givings a job in motion pictures. Long he produced only 
one- or two-reelers of the custard-pie-throwing variety, 
but they excelled all previous film comedy; they are 
going yet. In that same field of the two-reeler, John 
Bunny was capitalizing his fat. Bronco Billy had come 
out of his anonymity under the name of G. M. Ander- 
son, and Maurice Costello, one of the first legitimate 
actors to enter “pictures,” blazed out as a star; in 1912, 
he headed a Vitagraph company which went round the 
world, filming as it travelled. 

J. Stuart Blackton, perhaps the most able of the old 
group, had leaped into the long film. As Zukor saw the 
use of the successful play on the screen, so Blackton per- 
ceived the mine of wealth in best-selling novels; at top 
speed he was transferring Rex Beach and Jack London 
into five-, six-, and seven-reelers. Griffith, declining 
another offer from Zukor, was preparing on his own 
account to produce that epoch-maker. The Birth of a 
Nation, and Rainey s African Hunt, in nine reels, had 
begun to sweep the country. 

Others plunged into the long film — firms which pro- 
duced their one picture and died or firms now solidly 
encased in the great combinations of Hollywood. The 
newspapers no longer called the fashion a mere craze: 
the pioneer film critics made their modest first appear- 


i 82 the house that SHADOWS BUILT 

ance. “Picture houses” grew in number and pretension. 
Theatrical managers, routing road shows, more and 
more commonly found blocks of time in the small-city 
theatres engaged for this or that feature moving picture. 

These are only glimpses of a great, confused revo- 
lution; a new, mad industry suddenly upheaving itself 
from chaos and nothingness. But to Famous Players, 
coursing breathlessly ahead of the pack which it had 
started, the situation brought anxiety and perplexity. 
The film lords of the Trust were right about salaries; as 
soon as stars saw their names on the programme and the 
posters they began to demand larger rewards. Even 
those anonymous indispensables, the cameramen and 
expert mechanics, were in such demand that a manager 
must pay high to keep them. Everything was costing 
more than Zukor expected when he began. 

Also, the system of distribution was changing. Later, 
I will take up that important matter in detail. It is 
enough to say that a leading firm, to keep in the running, 
must now produce a continuous supply — even of long 
films. Eventually, Zukor must furnish, either in combi- 
nation or alone, two complete films a week for change of 
programme, or one hundred and four a year. That was un- 
attainable at present; but always circumstances drove 
him to increase his output. Already it had become im- 
possible to supply the whole demand with pretentious 
productions like Zenda or The Good Little Devil. 

Zukor prepared to organize his studio forces into 


THE LOW SPOT 


183 

Classes A, B, and C. The A’s were the Famous Players in 
Famous Plays, the B’s trained film actors with a repu- 
tation, the C’s obscure players interpreting hack 
scenarios. Mary Pickford was long in Class B, though 
she did not know that until many years later. Eventu- 
ally, as players like her gained following and reputation, 
he intended to drop Class A altogether. A few months of 
actual experience had confirmed his opinion that actors 
and directors trained in the business itself would eventu- 
ally hold the heights of Shadowland. The great stars of 
the “legitimate” were educated and set in another kind 
of technique. Gesture, posture, and expression which 
seemed natural behind the footlights appeared strained 
and forced on the screen. In The Good Little Devil, for 
example, the film version used the exceptionally able 
company which enacted the spoken original. I saw that 
old film recently, and Mary Pickford was the only one 
that I believed. Further, the stage stars generally looked 
upon the screen only as a rich pot-boiler for slack sea- 
sons. They did not put into it their last ounce of energy 
and interest, as did the regular moving-picture people 
to whom it was the sole career. 

So the scale of his business had increased; but not its 
resources. Virtually, Zukor had nothing to support this 
structure except his own little fortune, the profits from 
those early road shows. Queen Elizabeth and Zenda, and 
that abnormal credit of his with the banks. In the mod- 
ern moving-picture business one must wait long for his 


i84 the house that SHADOWS BUILT 

money. A firm begins continuous production in January, 
say; the film can scarcely go forth before June, and it is 
January again before returns from its sale or distribution 
reach their peak. Meantime, production, with its heavy 
expense, is going steadily on. Just before the second 
January comes the low spot. If you survive until the 
next June you reach a peak of returns, and all there- 
after is well. But that low spot is a slough of despond 
which has smothered many and many a promising enter- 
prise. Zukor approached it in the summer of 1913. A 1 
Lichtmann, selling states’ rights on the road, read a 
sinister sign in the letters and telegrams from the head 
office. Early in the week he would flash to New York 
a low cash offer for a certain piece of territory, and 
Zukor would spurn it. Thursday or Friday would come 
a telegram “Accept offer and wire money.” This, to 
Lichtmann’s shrewd intelligence, meant only one thing: 
Zukor was having trouble in meeting his payroll. Once 
he failed on that — down would come Famous Players 
like a house of cards. 

Other creditors he could put off, was putting off; but 
his formidable payroll had become a nightmare. Zukor 
threw everything into the bottomless pit. One week it 
was the reserve of securities which he was keeping to 
insure his family against his disposition to gamble with 
business; already, in the first pinch, he had sold one 
thousand shares in the Loew Company — these he had 
been holding against the great multiplication of values 


THE LOW SPOT 185 

which he foresaw. Then he called on Morris Kohn, 
offering for ^25,000 an interest he held in the Penny 
Arcade business. He had been turning a smiling and 
inscrutable face to the outer world. Before this relative 
and old associate, however, he dared let down a little 
and express his burning anxiety. Kohn, to save time, 
himself bought the shares for spot cash. Zukor dumped 
that into the hole. 

*' Then, by that persuasiveness of his, he wheedled 
the bank into lending him just a little more. But there, 
Lee informed him, it must stop. While he believed 
personally in Zukor and his enterprise, he had the direc- 
tors to reckon with. Probably, from the banking point 
of view, the time had come to call a halt. In the vaults 
of two banks lay at that moment more than ^200,000 
worth of Adolph Zukor’s notes, secured by some second- 
hand machinery and a few films which, if the “craze” 
collapsed during the next few months, would be only 
spoiled celluloid. Into the yawning chasm went this 
last loan. The next week Mrs. Zukor insisted on selling 
her jewels. That sacrifice of affection, together with 
some small scrapings from the comers of his empty 
estate, met the next payroll. Long before, Zukor had 
considered selling his car and giving up his apartment. 
But he dismissed that idea. News travels fast on Broad- 
way; and there, of all places, to be prosperous you must 
look prosperous. If his car disappeared, if he moved to 
poorer quarters, the pack would be down on him. . . . 


i86 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


Now, he was up against a blank wall. Two weeks 
ahead lay the turning point; for then payments would 
begin to roll in. But for all he could see, it might as well 
lie two centuries ahead. Famous Players was so busy 
making history that it neglected to record history. Also, 
fire afterward destroyed what records there were. It is 
impossible, therefore, to date this crisis exactly. But it 
came in 1913, and toward the end of the summer. 

In the middle of the week Daniel Frohman dropped 
as usual into the studio. When Zukor said good-morning 
that pleasant smile of his looked forced. Frohman 
watched him as he puttered with the papers on his desk. 
All the lines of his face drooped. 

“What’s the matter with you, Adolph?” he asked 
suddenly. 

“Nothing,” replied Zukor. 

“ But there is something,” persisted Frohman. “Come 
on, Adolph — tell me!” 

Suddenly Zukor’s reserve broke down. 

“It’s the business,” he began. And he poured it out 
in a burst. So much confidence had his associates in 
Adolph Zukor that even Frohman, the business man, 
had never thought much about the financial basis of 
their enterprise. The Chief was taking care of that. 
After his initial burst of emotion, Zukor sketched the 
situation coolly and logically. Salvation lay a fortnight 
ahead; but they must exist meanwhile. He had ex- 
hausted every resource, every device. Nothing for it but 


THE LOW SPOT 


187 

bankruptcy — his old personal devil — or a receiver. Him- 
self, he would be squeezed out altogether or reduced to 
a minor position. The control would pass to bankers, 
who could never understand what Famous Players 
was trying to accomplish. 

“Well, I’ll see if I can do anything,” said Frohman 
as he left the office. Adolph Zukor took this sombrely. 
He was inured to hollow reassurances. 

Frohman started to the Lyceum. On the way his 
intense human sympathies and his ardent belief in the 
business came together in a benevolent resolution. 
When he made his first success in theatrical manage- 
ment he had segregated from his earnings enough 
money to insure him against poverty in his old age; for 
he knew well the speculative nature of his business. 
This he invested in first-class bonds, which he tucked 
away in his safety-deposit box. Through all his vicissi- 
tudes he had held this reserve secret and sacred. Sud- 
denly, Frohman changed his course, walked to the bank, 
to the safety-deposit vaults. . . . 

That afternoon, he returned to the studio, and laid on 
Zukor’s desk a check for $50,000. 

“It’s a loan, not an investment, Adolph,” he said. 
“ Pay me when you get out of the woods.” 

Fourteen years later, Adolph Zukor, dwelling on the 
virtues of Dan Frohman, came out with this story. He 
who heard it met Frohman next day and mentioned the 
incident. Frohman blushed like a girl. 


i88 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


“Did Adolph tell you that?” he faltered. Himself, he 
had never told. 

They passed the “low spot”; although Zukor had to 
juggle his finances, receipts were now flowing in. Also, 
Mary Pickford had begun to come into her kingdom. 
When as a mere child she worked for Biograph, Griffith 
had usually cast her for parts a little older than her age; 
at fourteen, she was enacting eighteen. Now, when she 
had reached twenty and stood ready to impersonate 
young love. Famous Players began to cast her as a child. 
It was an immediate and furious hit. A benevolent trick 
of nature had given her the ankles of a slim little girl. 
And mentally it was as though those hard early ex- 
periences had mixed up inextricably her childhood and 
maturity. Put her into pinafores and she was eight years 
old again. She stood and walked and ran and managed 
her head like a child; she even held her hands like a 
child. Presently, a French dramatic critic was calling 
her “the greatest ingenue in the world.” A Good Little 
Devil and Tess of the Storm Country, wherein her shadow- 
self seems perhaps fifteen or sixteen, established her as 
a great star. Then Famous Players bought the film 
rights to Eleanor Gates’s play The Poor Little Rich 
Girl. This production carried Mary Pickford’s name 
and her shadow image even to the clearings by the 
African jungle, the atolls of the South Seas, the river 
settlements of China. It made her the most famous 


THE LOW SPOT 


189 

woman of her time. Its long success, both at home and 
abroad, pulled Famous Players past all financial danger 
and established it on the heights of security — so far as 
there is security in the moving-picture business. 

Before that, however, Adolph Zukor was to totter 
again on the perilous verge of ruin. This crisis arose not 
from his own large and bold attitude toward the future, 
but from a blow of fate. Beginning as a tragedy, it 
ended perhaps as a comedy. 

In those days, insurance companies looked on the 
inflammable film with great suspicion. The famous 
Charity Bazar fire in Paris, which started in a cinema 
booth, had accentuated that prejudice. Also, the busi- 
ness was so new that actuaries had not calculated the 
appropriate premiums. Insurance let the moving picture 
strictly alone. 

Frank Meyer, realizing this, had at the very begin- 
ning looked into the matter of a fireproof safe for their 
precious negatives. He chose a huge affair, protected 
both with an asbestos lining and vacuum cells. When 
it arrived it seemed too heavy for a somewhat insecure 
floor already burdened with a tank. So he had it fastened 
to the wall by a pair of steel straps. Presently, the fire 
inspector, looking over this dangerous establishment, 
noted the arrangement and vetoed it on the spot. It im- 
posed, he said, too much strain on that wall. Some day, 
wall and safe might come down together and crash 
through both floors onto the braid factory below. In the 


190 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

event of a fire, it would surely bring down the wall. 
Meyer, who is something of an engineer, did not believe 
him. And to move the film safe to another locality would 
entail innumerable inconveniences. He appealed to the 
fire commissioners. They had the matter under advise- 
ment, when the expected happened — also the unex- 
pected. 

On the night of September ii, 1915, Packy McFar- 
land and Mike Gibbons fought in New York for the 
lightweight championship. The studio, from top to 
bottom, happened to be mad over boxing. Virtually 
everyone was going — except Frank Meyer. Mechanical 
superintendent of the firm, he served also as its film- 
cutter. Absorbed in a peculiarly intricate problem, he 
determined to work it out that night and gave away his 
ticket. As they passed out on their way to dinner, the 
studio force guyed his enslavement to duty. By half-past 
six the studio was empty except for a few mechanics 
working overtime on the lower floor, and Frank Meyer, 
cutting film on the upper. The safe stood open, and 
hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of negatives and 
prints lay scattered over the shelves. Finally, one of the 
stage hands, an Italian, was visiting a friend in a flat 
just across the light-well. 

The mechanics looked out of their window. They saw 
the Italian making wild, dramatic gestures. He was a bit 
of a clown; they took his performance for some of his 
characteristic monkeyshines and responded with de- 


THE LOW SPOT 


191 

risive grimaces. He was trying, as a matter of fact, to 
give an alarm; he had seen that the braid factory below 
was a cauldron of flames. . . . Despairing of making them 
understand, he scrambled down the fire escape and up 
the one which led to their window. Even as he threw it 
open, the fire had burst the panes of the braid factory. 
As they jumped to the fire escape one of the mechanics 
remembered Frank Meyer and ran back. The fire was 
rushing up the stairway. He called; Meyer’s voice 
answered. Remembering that a ladder ran from the 
cutting room to the roof, he leaped back to the fire 
escape and escaped just in time. 

Meyer had sat so absorbed in his work that a choking 
sensation in his throat gave him the first warning; then 
the house fire alarm clanged from below. He thought 
first of the precious, fragile films. Gathering an armful, 
he ran to the stairway. It was afire. He rushed back to 
the safe, chucked into it haphazardly the films from his 
arms, from the table, from the racks. By the time he had 
closed the safe door he was choking with the thick smoke 
and the area by the staircase was burning like tinder. 
He scurried up the ladder, and butted his way through 
the hatchment. The tar roof was already afire from 
another quarter, and the opening of the hatchment had 
created a draught on which smoke and fire, fed now by 
raw film, shot up like a geyser. As he ran to the edge, the 
flames seemed to chase him across the roof. He dropped 
to the next building, and a jet of water from a hose 


192 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

drenched him to the skin. It was a chilly night and as he 
scrambled down the fire escape he decided to get a taxi- 
cab and go home for dry clothing. . . . 

Meantime, Adolph Zukor, who himself intended to 
see the fight, was dining at the Knickerbocker Grill with 
the adolescent Eugene. Mr. and Mrs. Emil Shauer, who 
were going to the theatre, sat at another table. They 
finished, and strolled together out to the car. Traffic 
on Broadway had stopped, fire bells sounded from 
every direction, and a glow lit the southwestern sky. 

“Quite a fire,” remarked Zukor to a policeman at the 
curb. 

“Yes,” responded the policeman casually, “general 
alarm. It’s a moving-picture studio on West Twenty- 
sixth Street.” 

When Frank Meyer returned in his dry clothes he 
had some difficulty in crashing through the police lines. 
Up and down between the engines strode Adolph Zukor, 
weeping frank, and open, and unashamed tears. 

“He’s taking his loss hard,” thought Frank Meyer. 
“Well, he’s got a licence.” At that moment Zukor saw 
him, ran to him, embraced him, stood off feeling him all 
over and laughing hysterically with relief. For Frank 
Meyer was reported missing — when he went home to 
forefend pneumonia, he had not thought of that possi- 
bility. The last heard of him was his voice, calling to 
the mechanics across the blazing stairway. 

All night the partners in this emperilled venture 


THE LOW SPOT 


193 

stood inside of the police lines, watching the fire bum to 
its maximum and decline. That safe, steel-lashed to the 
wall, held the negatives of seventeen films; many of the 
most important still unprinted. If the wall fell in and 
dropped it into the superhot furnace below, fireproof 
safe or no fireproof safe, they were gone. And so, prob- 
ably, was Famous Players — ^just as it was getting onto 
its feet. Those little rolls of celluloid represented all their 
product for six months; and they had not a cent of insur- 
ance. But the wall held; and toward morning they could 
see through the smoke the safe hanging aloft like a dove- 
cote. Even then, they could not be sure. 

The experts on fireproof safes, arriving next morning, 
seemed even less sure. Ordinary papers, they said, would 
resist the heat. But films, being mere celluloid, blazed 
and exploded at a comparatively low temperature. Had 
Frank Meyer, when he closed and locked the door, also 
thrown in the combination.? That would make a great 
difference. Meyer cudgelled his brain, but he could not 
remember. Choking with smoke, in peril of his life, he 
had acted on instinct. They could not know until the 
safe cooled. That would take two or three days. 

His associates remark yet on Zukor’s calm during this 
crisis. That very morning he set to work as steadily, as 
systematically, as though this were a minor incident. 
He called the company together and assured them that 
their salaries would be paid on Saturday night as usual. 
He leased for a studio Durland’s abandoned riding 


194 the house that SHADOWS BUILT 

academy in Fifty-sixth Street. His competitors, ex- 
pressing a fine tradition of American business, offered 
him a loan of all their spare facilities. He sped arrange- 
ments for resuming production at the earliest possible 
moment. His anxious associates wondered if he lacked 
imagination. In truth, he had too much imagination; 
he was shutting the door on it lest it overwhelm him. 
“ I wouldn’t let myself think that those films might be 
gone,” he said afterward. “I was afraid I’d break down 
if I did.” Even on the fateful morning when mechanics 
and firemen lowered the cooled safe from the wall and 
set it in place to open he remained in his temporary 
office, madly at work. 

Frank Meyer laid a trembling hand on the lock. No, 
he had not thrown in the combination! He took a long 
breath, opened the doors. 

Not even the edge of a film was scorched ! 

Tradition in the moving-picture business calls this the 
great crisis of the Famous Players. Zukor disagrees. 
The company was on its feet now, past the peak, a going 
concern. Even had these films burned, he believes that 
he would have fought through. The really dangerous 
crisis was that “low spot” of the summer before — the 
episode of Daniel Frohman’s check. 

This was his last flirtation with financial embarrass- 
ment. Henceforth, he struggled not against bankruptcy, 
but toward leadership and control and power. 


BOOK III 


FRUITION 




CHAPTER XVI 


AND NOW, HOLLYWOOD! 

^^(ow we must go for a time far afield and begin life 
anew with Samuel Goldwyn, Jesse Lasky, and Cecil 
De Mille. 

‘ Goldwyn was born Goldfish. However, during his 
later adventures in moving pictures, he formed with 
Edgar Selwyn one of his characteristically brief partner- 
ships; they combined their names and titled it the 
Goldwyn Company. The partnership broken. Goldfish 
kept the name for himself. I shall use it henceforth, 
even though I anticipate chronology. He sprang from 
Poland. During his infancy his family moved to Birming- 
ham, England, and set up a small antique business. 
Expressing that independence, that lone-wolf quality, 
which has marked all his career, he ran away from home 
at the age of twelve, worked his passage to America, 
and found a job as apprentice in a glove factory at 
Gloversville, New York. He had scarcely perfected 
himself as a journeyman when he shifted to the business 
end of the industry and began selling gloves on the road. 
His aggressive energies brought early success; and before 
he was thirty he owned a glove agency in New York 
City. There he met Jesse Lasky. 

The son of a merchant of San Jose, California, Lasky 

197 


198 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

had grown up expecting a course at Stanford University 
and a career in the law. His father’s death ruined that. 
In his early teens he began carrying newspapers in Oak- 
land, branched out to a small agency, and came into the 
old San Francisco Post first as clerk in the circulation 
department and afterward as reporter. When, near the 
turn of the century, the Cape Nome discovery blazed 
through the West, he rushed to Alaska. He found no 
gold; and, as John L. Sullivan once said in disgust of a 
wayward nephew, “he took to music”; for the cornet 
had fascinated him from infancy. Next, he was in 
Honolulu, the only white man in the Royal Hawaiian 
Band. Returning to San Francisco, he found that his 
sister Blanche had grown proficient with the cornet. 
They formed a team — “The Musical Laskys” — and 
toured for a season or so on the local Orpheum circuit. 
An Eastern manager offered them an engagement at 
one hundred dollars a week. They came East, bringing 
their mother, and “opened” in Boston. 

Flat disappointment followed. Their act, said the 
manager, was not up to “the big time.” They saw that 
themselves, and dropped back to a small circuit at the 
old salary of fifty dollars a week, on which the three of 
of them managed somehow to exist for two or three 
years. Finally, the Musical Laskys found themselves 
the vaudeville relief to Herman the Magician. This 
company carried a treasurer, who stood watch at the 
door over the local ticket taker. Somewhere in Pennsyl- 


AND NOW, HOLLYWOOD! 199 

vania the incumbent quit his job. Jesse Lasky, whose 
act did not begin until half-past nine, thereupon 
“doubled” in the box office. This service brought him 
the acquaintance of advance agents, local managers, 
and theatre owners; he became interested in vaudeville 
as a business. By now he realized that he would never 
climb Parnassan heights as a cornet player. He saw 
an opening toward affluence — devising and managing 
“musical acts.” In an interior New York town he had 
met B. A. Rolfe, a cornettist with a thrill in every note. 
Some call him the greatest trumpeter in the world. Lasky 
sketched out an act for him, and booked it tentatively. 
An offer of fifty per cent, more than his salary as orches- 
tra leader drew Rolfe to the footlights. Eventually he 
and Lasky formed a partnership, and sprinkled the 
Eastern circuits with musical acts. Lasky originated the 
business and sketched the rough plots for turns comic, 
turns serious, turns beautiful. He dressed his bijou 
bands in rich uniforms and labelled them the “Colonial 
Sextette” or the “Military Octette.” He found ways of 
torturing music out of stage furniture. He hammered 
jokes and bits of business, purchased at two dollars 
apiece from professional “gag men,” into knockout 
vaudeville acts. The vaudeville mania was rising toward 
its peak and he prospered astonishingly. Growing 
ambitious, he started with the Harris firm the “Folies 
Bergere,” the first cabaret in New York. This opened, 
in an artificially cooled theatre, during the summer of 


200 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

f 

1911. Through various causes, including a hot wave 
and the ineptitude of theatrical men at restaurant 
keeping, it failed dismally. Very much behind the game 
now, Lasky went back to his vaudeville turns. 

He found room on a major circuit for a comic opera 
complete in one act. Having a composer already in 
mind, he thought of William De Mille as librettist. Mrs. 
Henry De Mille, mother of William, managed the busi- 
ness affairs of her artistic sons. Lasky saw her. No, 
William could not trifle with vaudeville, said Mrs. De 
Mille. His play. The Woman, with Jane Peyton, had 
scored a major hit, and orders for other dramas were 
piling up. But her younger son, Cecil, had given up his 
job as a stage director and taken to playwriting. He had, 
Mrs. DeMille felt, a better comedy touch than William. 
Lasky struck a bargain for Cecil. The opera proved 
more than satisfactory, and Cecil booked with Lasky 
and Rolfe several other one-act sketches at the con- 
ventional royalty of twenty-five dollars a week. 

' Meantime, the restless Goldwyn had become en- 
amoured of the screen. In the summer of 1913, when 
Zukor had just opened a way for the long film, Arthur 
Friend, a theatrical lawyer, called his attention to its 
possibilities. Returned from his vacation, Goldwyn 
ranged the town, entering every motion-picture house 
he passed. During that vital season of new enterprises, 
there appeared in New York The Delhi Durbar, a glori- 
fied news-feature seven reels long, which for the first 


201 


AND NOW, HOLLYWOOD! 

time ambitiously introduced colour into the film. Gold- 
wyn went mad over it. He began hammering at Lasky. 
“ My business experience and your theatrical experience 
— look at it!” he said. 

Lasky was in no mood for adventure. However, as he 
sat one night that autumn at dinner with Cecil De Mille, 
they floated into a mood of pessimism. “ Here I am, back 
where I started,” said Lasky. 

“And here I am, just writing cheap vaudeville turns,” 
said De Mille. 

Suddenly, something which he cannot quite explain 
even yet happened in Lasky’s mind. He had made the 
leap! 

“Cecil,” he said, “let’s go into the moving-picture 
business!” 

“Now Cecil,” said Lasky afterward, “was this sort of 
a fellow in those days: if I’d proposed something sensi- 
ble, he’d have turned it down cold, but if I’d proposed 
to start a filibustering expedition to Thibet, he’d have 
bit like a fish. He answered ‘Why not?’” 

Threshing out the details, they strolled over to The 
Lambs, the great exchange for theatrical ideas. There in 
the taproom sat Dustin Farnum. He had starred on the 
road all the past season in Edwin Milton Royle’s huge 
success. The Squaw Man. Also, he had occupied his 
vacation in touring Europe with Walter Hale while they 
filmed C. N. & A. M. Williamson’s The Lightning Con- 
ductor. Both Lasky and De Mille knew this. 


202 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


“Let’s start with Dusty Farnum in The Squaw MaUy* 
said De Mille. 

“All set,” responded Lasky. 

In such offhand manner began the Lasky Feature 
Play Company! Two days of close conference, and they 
had perfected their organization, thrown together their 
programme. Lasky, the skilled and well-known manager 
of the group, was to be president and give his name to 
the corporation. Lasky and De Mille subscribed each 
to $5,000 worth of stock in a $26,500 capitalization. 
Goldwyn took most of the rest. Farnum agreed to 
accept $5,000 worth of stock for his services. On second 
thought, he changed his mind. He was an actor, he 
said, not a business man. Instead of shares, he would 
take a salary. That stock which he refused has grown 
through successive combinations and divisions to a 
value of more than a million dollars. Yet no one can call 
Farnum foolish to choose as he did. In sober truth, a 
whirl at business is usually a disaster for any artist. And 
at that period, moving pictures had the same standing 
with the stock market as dry oil wells or unplanted rub- 
ber plantations. But, “opportunity knocked at my 
door, and I wasn’t in,” says Farnum. 

Royle sold them picture rights to The Squaw Man 
for ten thousand dollars, mostly notes. This was nearly 
two fifths of their capital; and long pictures had begun 
to cost money. Winter was coming on, and they had 
determined to produce it in the Southwest, so transpor- 


203 


AND NOW, HOLLYWOOD!] 

tation added another expense. Further, they must buy 
all the initial equipment of a studio. But in Goldwyn 
they had a d5niamic super-salesman. While De Mille, 
Farnum, and a scratch-up company started West, 
Goldwyn and Lasky remained in New York, selling 
the non-existent picture to independent states’ rights 
buyers for cash or for notes which they might discount 
at the bank. 

For a location, they had selected Los Angeles. It lay 
close to Wild Western scenery; its heterogeneous popu- 
lation would furnish cowboys and Indians for extra 
people; and there was the celebrated climate. Already, 
moving-picture people had used that region for winter 
operations; notably Griffith and Mary Pickford two 
years before. As an alternative, they considered Flag- 
staff, Arizona, which none of them had ever seen but 
whose name on the map attracted them. De Mille and 
Famum started with instructions to look over Flagstaff 
on the way. They viewed it from the car window, found 
it unpromising for cinema purposes, and went on to Los 
Angeles. 

In the orange-growing suburb of Holl)rwood they 
found a barn which another moving-picture company 
had revamped the winter before as a studio. They rented 
it for a hundred dollars a week, and paid extra for the 
privilege of digging up some unconveniently placed 
orange trees. Life in Hollywood was then extremely 
primitive. The town had no tram cars and the Lasky 


204 the house that SHADOWS BUILT 

Company owned as yet only one piece of mechanical 
transportation — a second-hand truck which served to 
haul scenery, property, and actors alike. When they 
worked “on the lot” they walked a mile to their very 
humble boarding houses; “on location” they camped 
out. De Mille, coached by screen-wise members of the 
company and by his mechanics, started at the same time 
to produce a super-film and to learn a new trade. Gold- 
wyn was shrieking over the wire for speed, speed, and 
yet more speed. In two or three hectic weeks De Mille 
finished. They rushed the negative to print, projected 
it. 

Something was wrong. The film ran jerkily, haltingly, 
insanely. Mechanics overhauled the apparatus, and 
found the trouble. It looked irreparable, 
i Everyone must have noticed, in printed reproduction 
of films, the regular perforations which run to both 
sides of the picture. The cogs of both cameras and pro- 
jectors, fitting into these holes, produce the swift dance 
of the film past the lens. Already, the process was 
standardized; all American equipment demanded sixty- 
four perforations to the foot. Mysteriously, the new 
film which they brought to Los Angeles had sixty-five 
perforations to the foot. It worked all right in the 
camera; the famous “Latham loop,” designed to take 
up slack, attended to that. But the film-printing ma- 
chine reproduces on the positive both the pictures and 
the perforations of the negative. And in the less elastic 


205 


AND NOW, HOLLYWOOD! 

projector that extra perforation played singular pranks. 
The picture was spoiled. They had produced it largely 
from money advanced by the distributors. This meant 

ruin. . . . 

Their mechanics tried to patch it up and merely 
spoiled the negative. Then, when all seemed lost, De 
Mille uncovered his buried ace. He is a creature of 
instincts and intuitions. From the first, a vague worry 
over the negative had disturbed this able apprentice. 
That strip of frail celluloid held all their fortunes. It 
interpreted itself in his conscious mind as a fear of fire. 
“Luckily, I followed my hunch,” says De Mille. To-day, 
the director “shoots” every scene four or five times, 
and from the “rough run” selects the one filming which 
shows the best results. In 1913, that refined method was 
virtually unknown. But De Mille cannily filmed every 
scene twice, and stored the extra negative in his boarding- 
house room. Now, they took no more chances with their 
own mechanics. They carried De Mille’s hidden treasure 
straight to Lubin of Philadelphia, the most expert film 
doctor in the trade. In consideration of a contract for 
making the prints, he put his ingenuity to work and 
solved the problem. Breathing freely again, De Mille 
swung into a film version of George Barr McCutcheon’s 
Brewster s Millions^ which Lasky had bought for its 
next production. 

Sales of The Squaw Man returned to the Lasky Com- 
pany almost twice the cash value of their original capital. 


2o6 the house that SHADOWS BUILT 


Owing to the necessity for speed, Lasky and Goldwyn 
had slung it forth without much preliminary advertising 
and ballyhoo. Having this time more leisure, they 
followed the example set for his business by Zukor, and 
gave Brewster’s Millions a promotional showing in New 
York. For publicity reasons, they herded into the 
theatre every stage and screen notability that friendship 
or favour could cajole. Among them came Adolph Zukor. 
Next morning he telephoned congratulations to Lasky; 
the day after, invited him to luncheon. Lasky was 
flattered; and this is a measure of Zukor’s sudden rise. 
Less than two years before, theatrical Broadway knew 
him not, and moving-picture Broadway only as a small 
exhibitor with hallucinations about the future of the 
business. Now, an invitation from him was a guerdon, 
a decoration! 

However, Zukor sought Lasky’s acquaintance not 
merely by way of pleasing a young aspirant. He had 
been watching his competitors, as he always does. With 
his special faculty for putting his personality and desires 
out of the problem, he had searched their product not 
for his own flattering reassurance but to establish its 
points of superiority — and to learn. He had liked The 
Squaw Man, and Brewster s Millions pleased him even 
better. Lasky, De Mille, and Goldwyn, indeed, formed 
an exceptional combination. Goldwyn brought to the 
film, besides his business talent and his power of sales- 
manship, a primal love of a story and an instinctive 


AND NOW, HOLLYWOOD! 207 

understanding of the screen. De Mille possessed an 
inherited feeling for dramatic values, a keen sense of 
beauty, and fertility of large if vague ideas. Lasky, like 
Zukor an adventurer with life and already a trained 
showman, was fast developing what the writers in his 
employ call “his editorial faculty.” He glows to other 
people’s ideas; knows how to expand them, make them 
practicable. Also, he is an unsurpassed discoverer of 
screen talent. And all three had the priceless gift of 
invention. 

Meeting across a luncheon table at Delmonico’s, 
Zukor and Lasky found that their minds dovetailed, 
and that they had similar aims. Zukor summed that all 
up in one of the commercial phrases which he carried 
over from the fur business into art — “a high-class 
product, and nothing else.” 

Whenever Lasky flashed into town from Hollywood 
where his company was producing to the limit of its 
borrowing capacity, they met at luncheon to discuss 
the larger strategies of the moving-picture business. 
They found that the movement of the times was edging 
them into cooperation. The states’ rights system, by 
which they had distributed their first pictures, was no 
longer adequate to their uses. The best exhibitors, as 
I have said already, were demanding a continuous sup- 
ply of those new-fangled, six-reel, super-star films. The 
two-reelers — with Chaplin always the brilliant excep- 
tion — were fading back into the slum houses. In a 


208 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

combination, Zukor, Lasky, and the new, promising 
California firm of Bosworth, could by crowding all 
steam put out 104 pictures a year — two a week. They 
needed only to unite behind some new combination of 
distributors. The Trust, distribution system and all, was 
fast disintegrating. Out of the wreckage, new combi- 
nations were taking form. One of these — Paramount — 
Zukor took pains to hurry along. Presently, Paramount 
was sending forth a Famous Players-Lasky-Bosworth 
programme of the desired 104 pictures a year. 
Of these. Famous Players furnished fifty, Lasky 
thirty, Bosworth ten, leaving the other fourteen to be 
picked up from the small but ambitious companies now 
overrunning all California. Fifty “big” pictures a year 
strained for the time Zukor’s resources for raising money. 
But, to keep in the lead, he must expand. 

That is the plain, statistical statement of a business 
arrangement which involved much drama, much clash 
of ruthless, dominant characters. Here, I shall take a 
new breath and go back again into the past. 



Jesse L. Lasky 




Airplane view of Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation' s 
studio in Hollywood 


CHAPTER XVII 


A DUEL 

0 UT of the West came W. W. Hodkinson, another 
man of small beginnings who, scanning the world from 
little store shows in Poverty Hollow, had visioned 
moving-picture palaces in the heart of Main Street. 
When moving-picture journalism was still merely a 
weapon of the war between trust and independents, he 
contributed to his favourite weekly a speculative and 
imaginative article on the future of the business. It stood, 
he said, at the beginning of great things. Before long 
the price at the door would rise from five cents to ten 
and finally to twenty-five. Then would come the long 
film, a whole evening’s entertainment on the scale and 
dignity of a dramatic performance. After which the 
film would begin taking over the regular theatres and 
charging theatrical prices. The moving-picture business 
read, and smiled. It was interesting, but also touching 
and fantastic. Of course, the reality exceeded Hodkin- 
son’s wild flight of imagination. But before 1911 or 1912 
probably only two men of any consequence saw the 
outcroppings of a bonanza — the little, quiet, subtle 
Hungarian Jew in South Union Square and the tall, 
hustling, high-powered Yankee in Utah. 


209 


210 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

For it was in Utah that Hodkinson entered the moving- 
picture business — stumbled into it, as did most of the 
pioneers. He was in 1907 a salesman for the correspond- 
ence school which had given him most of his business 
education, and growing a little weary of the job. The 
movies arrived in Ogden. Probably, in that early day 
and remote region, they represented the worst of the 
primitive one-reelers — lynchings, with the victim strung 
up in full view of the audience, realistic murders, a 
shocking display of the female ankle. The better ele- 
ment was talking of censorship. Full of uplifting edu- 
cational ideals, Hodkinson conceived a family theatre 
running films at which propriety need not blush. He 
raised a little capital in Ogden, secured moral backing 
from the newspapers, and hung out his sign. He was 
perhaps the first exhibitor to charge ten cents instead 
of five; and at that price, he made his theatre pay. 

He is by temperament a business man, as Zukor is 
perhaps primarily an artist. Creation of films never 
attracted him. He passed from exhibition to distribution 
and acquired an agency of his own for the Pacific Coast. 
When the Trust formed the General Film Company, he 
sold out to the combination and became its manager for 
the coast and the intermountain region. Even with the 
unsatisfactory films the New York companies gave him, 
he managed through his energy and personal influence to 
raise all standards in his territory — better theatres, 
higher prices, superior trimmings of orchestras and 


A DUEL 


2II 


decorations. While in the East moving pictures lay- 
still under ban of the respectable, in his territory they 
began to advance toward Main Street. He was the star 
of the General Film Company, the bright example of 
conventions and conferences. Also, he had acquired 
some money of his own and much standing with the 
banks. 

When the current of the times cracked the Trust and 
the government decisions began to hammer it into frag- 
ments, Hodkinson formed a distributing company of 
his own; in a year or so he outstripped his competitors 
of the Pacific Coast. All over the country, the same 
thing was happening; the fragments of the Trust were 
combining into larger companies. W. L. Sherry had 
begun to dominate the important New York territory. 
Abrams and Greene virtually controlled distribution in 
New England; and so on. 

In January, 1914, and at about the time when Zukor 
and Lasky had begun acutely to worry over the lack of a 
stable and regular outlet, Hodkinson came East and 
solicited from Zukor, already the most important of 
the “high-class” producers, the contract to distribute 
Famous Players films. There followed negotiations too 
complex to narrate in detail. Zukor wanted from the 
first to throw Lasky into the bargain. Hodkinson, how- 
ever, is another man who thinks “three years ahead.” 
Half-consciously he seems to have perceived the force 
and ambition underlying the quiet surface of Adolph 


212 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


Zukor, and to have exaggerated a danger, as men of 
lively imagination will. The Trust, by monopolizing 
production, had strangled progress. The Famous Play- 
ers, embodied in Zukor, then led the field in production 
of first-class films, and Lasky stood next in merit. Per- 
haps they, too, were working toward a monopoly! Also, 
one suspects, these two dominant temperaments clashed. 
Hodkinson wanted the Lasky pictures, but separately 
and on his own terms. 

Zukor was not looking toward monopoly of pro- 
duction; his need at the moment was a large and regular 
outlet. Machinery there was, scrapped from wreckage of 
the Trust, to distribute short films. The makers of 
super-films, like him and Lasky, must still depend on 
the uncertain states’ rights system. What they wanted 
was a smooth and certain machine throwing out to dis- 
tributors two changes of programme a week. Using Mary 
Pickford’s popular Tess of the Storm Country as a lever, 
he had A1 Lichtmann call the chief executives of the big 
distributing firms to New York. They represented five 
groups, strong enough to cover with sub-agents and 
agencies the whole United States. And, as a resolution 
of strangely warring forces, they pooled their interests 
in the Paramount Picture Corporation, with W. W. 
Hodkinson president and general manager. The Zukor, 
Lasky, and Bosworth companies accepted it as dis- 
tributing agency, and perfected the two-film-a-week 
arrangement which I described in the last chapter. 


A DUEL 


213 


Paramount was to receive thirty-five per cent, of the 
gross receipts from sale of films to the moving-picture 
theatres; the producers, sixty-five per cent. The adver- 
saries, now temporary allies, both profited by the 
arrangement. Hodkinson, from a local agent, had sprung 
to rule of a company which distributed nation-wide the 
best moving pictures then current; Zukor had found a 
perfect outlet. 

However, both men, and especially Zukor, regarded 
the arrangement as a truce, not a peace. The president 
of the Famous Players had been looking ahead. He also 
entertained fears and suspicions, born from memories of 
the Trust. At the end of his long vision loomed a vague 
peril. If the brilliant, energetic Hodkinson went ahead 
he might gather the sales agencies for all the long-film 
companies under the roof of Paramount. A combination 
of these middlemen could hold the bridge between the 
producer and the ultimate consumer, taking toll. Again, 
as under the Trust, men who did not understand might 
strangle progress. In a great crisis, such as the “low 
spot” of 1913, the fire of 1915, Zukor goes deathly still — 
“the one quiet amidst the raging floods.” In face of 
a far-away perplexity like this, he comes out of his shell 
and grows almost voluble. He used to drag Sam Gold- 
wyn, the business executive of the Lasky Company, on 
long walks, and while wearing him out with his own 
swift, steady gait of a trapper, review the same situation 
in the same words. And, as a matter of fact, the equally 


214 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

resolute and ambitious Hodkinson was blazing ex- 
ploratory trails toward new horizons. All this time, 
gossips and go-betweens were fanning up the resent- 
ments of these bom antagonists. 

During the two years of the temporary arrangement 
between the producers and Paramount, there arose new 
problems which made the future seem to Zukor even 
more clouded. The great moving-picture boom, of which 
later I shall treat in more detail, was rising toward its 
climax. Stars — and rightly, considering their drawing 
power — were beginning to demand salaries beyond the 
dreams of bank presidents. Zukor was paying Mary 
Pickford a thousand dollars a week, then two thousand, 
then — but I will save the last figure for a climax. Zenda^ his 
original production of 1912, cost ^7,000. By 1915 or 1916, 
a rather ordinary film might cost $40,000. The “million- 
dollar film” was on its way. As the expense of production 
mounted, the producer must pay from his sixty-five 
per cent, of gross receipts the interest on increased in- 
vestment; while the distributor, mnning along on the 
same old scale, got his thirty-five per cent, just the same. 

Also, the project known as First National was a-born- 
ing. It said to stars, directors, and actors: “Our com- 
pany will produce and also distribute. Why pay a 
middleman’s profit.?” Eventually, if not immediately, 
he must meet this kind of competition. 

The existing contracts between Paramount and the 
three producing firms were due soon to expire. Disquiet- 


A DUEL 


215 


ing rumours of Hodkinson’s intentions reached Zukor 
and Lasky. First — Paramount, said the gossips, was flirt 
ing with the American Tobacco Company. That corpor- 
ation had of late reached far afield, gathering up and 
financing enterprises which had nothing to do with 
Havana fillers or Connecticut leaf. Zukor and Lasky 
felt out a certain roving executive of the tobacco com- 
pany. He talked of a combination, financed by his 
corporation, between Famous Players, Lasky, the Tri- 
angle Company of Chicago and Hollywood, and Para- 
mount; and talked in such manner as to suggest an 
understanding with Hodkinson. Once, Goldwyn met 
him in the offices of Paramount. “And he had,” said 
Goldwyn a decade later, “the air of owning the place. 
Only a bluff maybe — but it was disquieting.” Zukor and 
Hodkinson were keeping suspiciously away from each 
other. 

Yet Paramount was the only system of distribution 
then available for Zukor’s large purpose. Looking over 
the fields, he saw a possible avenue of escape — that 
same Triangle Company which Tobacco had suggested 
as a partner. “ In those days,” says a veteran executive 
of Famous Players, “some competitor or other was for- 
ever pounding at our heels. Often, he even passed us on 
the turns.” The dangerous contender in 1916 was Tri- 
angle. Formed and expanded by a bewildering combi- 
nation and recombination of several old companies, it 
had acquired Griffith, high in the glory of his epoch- 


2i6 the house that SHADOWS BUILT 

making Birth of a Nation, had started Douglas Fair- 
banks on his career, had gathered under its studio roof 
such leading actors of stage and screen as Willie Collier, 
De Wolf Hopper, Raymond Hitchcock, Billie Burke, 
Julia Dean, and that new king of the Westerns, W. S. 
Hart. It was creating its own system of distribution. 
Pile a-top Famous Players and Lasky this important 
firm, and you had a structure so commanding that it 
could, as it chose, dictate to Paramount or create its own 
distribution. Soon Harry E. Aitken, president of Tri- 
angle, sat in conference with Famous Players and Lasky. 

The negotiations which followed involved so many 
factors and so many plans as to blur the memories of 
the high contracting parties; the course of events re- 
mains to this day a little obscure. At one period a bank- 
ing syndicate, which wanted to take over the whole 
project, offered Zukor $1,500,000 for his interest in 
Famous Players. Though security for his family tempted 
him who had known poverty and insecurity, power and 
activity tempted him even more. He declined. Again, 
Triangle and the “Paramount firms” reached the point 
of drawing up a tentative agreement. Then someone in 
the Famous Players forces discovered that Triangle 
wanted virtually to reserve its foreign rights. This 
source of revenue had become important; must become 
in the future, Zukor and Goldwyn saw, more important 
still. The agreement went into the waste-paper basket; 


A DUEL 


217 


and while negotiations were not broken off, the project 
dozed. 

But gossip floated somehow through the cracks of the 
conference rooms. The Hotel Astor was then stamping 
ground for executives of the motion-picture business. 
Through its lobbies and cafes, men passed the rumour in 
whispers which increased to shouts. And at this moment 
Zukor took a vacation. He was weary to the point of 
collapse. The old itching again disturbed his skin. He 
retired to French Lick Springs, leaving his whereabouts 
a mystery to everyone except the inside circle of his 
offices. The said inside circle had dinner and luncheon 
every day at the Astor. When gossip, putting two and 
two together, said that Zukor was really in Chicago 
signing up with Triangle, the central group of Famous 
Players only smiled significantly and mysteriously. 

Into the Astor came the directors of Paramount, 
representing five groups of stockholders. They heard 
the gossip. That season Hodkinson had perhaps pulled 
a little away from the majority of his company. Like 
Zukor, he was “always in a hurry.” He had been talking 
expansion, eventual control. The rest were contented 
with the very profitable present arrangement and 
desired not to risk any loss of the Zukor-Lasky contract. 
If, now, Zukor was flirting with Triangle . . . There were 
tentative meetings across luncheon tables at the Astor, 
and then conferences behind locked doors and stuffed 


2i8 the house that SHADOWS BUILT 

keyholes. Suddenly Zukor, summoned by telegraph, 
returned from French Lick. 

On June 13, 1916, Hodkinson called to order in his 
office the annual meeting of the Paramount Company. 
Financially, he had a good year to report. In recognition 
of his record and his ability, Paramount had elected 
him its original president, and had reelected him in 
1915; no reason to suppose that the directors wanted a 
change. Hodkinson entertained a motion that they dis- 
pense with minutes. 

“The next in order is nomination of offices for the 
ensuing year,” he said perfunctorily. 

Hiram Abrams rose from his seat in the corner. 

“ I nominate ” he began. And then an overwhelm- 

ing sense of the drama in the situation fairly choked 

him. “I nominate ” he repeated, and choked again. 

When again he enacted this odd performance, the sup- 
pressed nerves of Walter Greene, his partner, burst 
through into action. 

“ I nominate Hiram Abrams for president,” he called. 

Before Hodkinson came out of his trance it was all 
over. By a vote of three to two Paramount had elected 
Hiram Abrams president. Hodkinson asked no ques- 
tions; the act spoke for itself. In the mood of steely 
quiet which disaster casts over the Anglo-Saxon, he put 
on his hat without a word, and walked from the room. 

Abrams took the chair. 

“On behalf of Adolph Zukor, who has purchased my 


A DUEL 


219 


shares in Paramount, I call this meeting to order,” he 
said. 

Production had taken the reins from distribution; 
Zukor had won. Hodkinson continued in the motion- 
picture business, and achieved success and a fortune 
with other enterprises. But, except for the negotiations 
preceding sale of his stock, he had no further commerce 
with Paramount. 

In the next few months, Adolph Zukor sprinkled 
scare-heads over all the motion-picture trade journals; 
he even broke into the front pages of the secular news- 
papers. Two weeks after Paramount elected Abrams 
president, he announced the amalgamation of Famous 
Players, the Lasky Feature Play Company and Bos- 
worth, together with a few smaller companies which 
had been distributing their product through Paramount. 
All this time, circumstances had forced Zukor and Lasky 
into closer and closer cooperation. Their interests had 
become so nearly identical that it was only a step to 
that meeting at luncheon when Zukor remarked, sud- 
denly and casually, “Why don’t we combine?” 

A decade later, Lasky said: “We weren’t nearly so 
big as Famous Players at the time. I expected that he’d 
offer us a minor partnership, and that we’d settle down 
to traffic and bargain. I cleared my throat and asked, 
‘On what terms?’ and Adolph answered casually, ‘Oh, 
about fifty-fifty!’ Adolph thinks so far and on such big 
terms that he never haggles over a thing like that. He 


220 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


prefers to have everyone contented— and then go ahead.’* 

Zukor said: “I saw their product was better than 
mine and that if they stayed in competition, they might 
beat me. After all, the film’s the thing.” 

Without argument, they made Zukor president and 
manager of finances and Jesse Lasky vice-president and 
manager of production; the arrangement endures to this 
day. Even this large company was too small, however, 
long to include four such able, positive characters as 
Zukor, Lasky, Goldwyn, and De Mille. In three months 
the restless Goldwyn had sold out to his partners. He 
formed with Edgar Selwyn the Goldwyn Company, 
merged that into the Metro-Goldwyn Company, again 
broke off all partnerships and began producing for him- 
self. Five or six years later Cecil De Mille, who had con- 
cerned himself entirely with the creation and direction 
of big pictures, sold out his share and formed the De 
Mille Company. 

Then Zukor made an announcement which gossips 
in the moving-picture business had long discounted. 
Famous Players-Lasky had bought Paramount. “A 
$25,000,000 merger,” said the newspapers, exaggerating 
present values if not future prospects. Zukor controlled 
his product from the first turn of the raw film in his 
cameras to delivering at the stage door. More important 
to history, he established precedent for the whole busi- 
ness. Now all the great companies have their own dis- 
tributing companies. 


A DUEL 


221 


Between these two announcements came another; less 
important, really, but much more attractive to the 
newspapers. Adolph Zukor had agreed to pay Mary 
Pickford ^10,000 a week as a mere advance against her 
share of the profits in her own pictures. So had Adolph 
Zukor’s mad enterprise grown in four years! 


CHAPTER XVIII 


THE TIDE ROLLS ON 

^OUR years — as Terry Ramsaye says, “the term of a 
college course.” In 1912, Adolph Zukorwas a small ex- 
hibitor in Fourteenth Street and the obscure, unheeded 
Columbus of a fantastic idea. In 1916, he sat by right of 
merit at the head of a ^25,000,000 combination. In 1912, 
he waited for three hours at the anteroom of the Trust in 
order that he might make a humble suggestion. In 1916, 
his world came to his door. It all happened so rapidly 
and yet so naturally that he could scarcely visualize it. 
That period in his life, as he tries now to piece the 
hurried events together, seems to him like one of those 
hot rallies in a fight when the adversary presses close 
and you strike and guard only on blind instinct. Major 
crisis had followed major crisis — the “low spot” in 
1913, the fire in 1915, the struggle for control of distri- 
bution; and every week brought its minor perplexities 
with temperamental stars, insufficient funds, dangerous 
rivalries. All about him the business was growing like a 
mushroom, grouping and regrouping itself like a kaleido- 
scope. Out of this flux constantly bubbled some enter- 
prise which might threaten not only his supremacy but 
his very existence. ^ 


222 


THE TIDE ROLLS ON 


223 

In 1914, just when he was gaining a slippery foothold, 
Europe had gone to war. He must needs readjust all 
his relations with that foreign market now growing so 
important. At thirty-nine, when he bought the rights 
to Queen Elizabeth^ Zukor had still that full head of jet- 
black hair which came to a widow’s peak on his fore- 
head; and his face retained so much of its youthful 
comeliness that he might have appeared as leading 
juvenile in one of his own films. When at forty-three he 
signed the agreement which took over the Paramount 
Company, his hair was thinning and whitening at the 
temples and his cheeks falling into weary masses. 

The twenty-five millions with which the newspapers 
tagged the Famous Players-Lasky-Paramount merger 
measures the length and force of that tide whose crest 
Zukor was riding. In 1912, none would have offered such 
a sum, even in hypothetical money, for the whole 
moving-picture business of the United States. In 1916, 
the Zukor combination, while momentarily the largest in 
the field, represented only a small part of the “moving- 
picture interests.” The two principles which Zukor laid 
down when he entered production — full-length film per- 
formances and exploitation of actors — had succeeded 
even beyond his own imagination. The public clamoured 
for the longer films, and granted Mary Pickford, W. S. 
Hart, Charlie Chaplin, a dozen others, frenzied idolatry 
without parallel in the history of the world. John Drew 
or Mrs. Fiske or Lillian Russell showed their personal- 


224 the house that shadows built 

ities to not more than a thousand spectators a night. 
Mary Pickford was playing to millions every night; and 
popular enthusiasms seem to roll up in geometrical ratio 
to the number of adherents and converts. It was a craze 
no longer, but an appetite. 

The European war, bursting in August, 1914, curi- 
ously intensified the appetite and confirmed the habit. 
During the two years of our hesitation it exercised a 
subconscious fascination on us all. The news reel, a 
European development, was bringing from European 
battlefields such glimpses as the censor allowed. Ex- 
hibitors varied even the long films with news reels. 
People who had never entered a moving-picture show 
before came now to see with their own eyes soixante- 
quinze batteries in action, German Infantry on the 
march, Italian Alpini scaling the precipices, the king 
reviewing his armies, the premier leaving Parliament 
House. They remained to watch the “feature”; and so 
acquired the habit. Also the suppressed spiritual ex- 
citement of America came to the surface in a mania for 
amusement. Though the “road” was yielding before 
the impact of the moving picture, the legitimate houses 
of Broadway never did better. 

During this period the moving picture perfected its 
own education. “My single chance for immortality,” 
said Sarah Bernhardt when she consented to act for the 
film. Alas, all that remains to America of Queen Elizabeth 
is one disintegrating print in the storehouse of the Para- 


THE TIDE ROLLS ON 225 

mount laboratories. Frank Meyer, now laboratory 
superintendent, ran it off for me in 1927; not for years 
before that had anyone unwound it from its metal reel. 
Many of the other early Zukor-Lasky successes have 
rotted or disappeared. But enough survive to serve as a 
study of the six-reel film in process of evolution. 

The technicians had advanced further, when Zukor 
began producing, than the dramatic artists of the craft. 
Even the very earliest films show clear photography; 
in spots, beautiful photography. True, it is a little 
monotonous; many subtleties of light and shading have 
come in since. But it gave the director flexible language 
for a plain story. In other important particulars, the 
screen had not yet begun to attain its possibilities. As 
though hypnotized by the motto “Famous Players in 
Famous Plays,” the directors generally filmed the whole 
scene, background and all, just as the spectator sees it 
on the speaking stage. The star actress has an “emo- 
tional bit” which absorbs for the moment all the at- 
tention of her audience. To-day, the director either 
makes this a “close-up”, showing only face and bust, 
or at least brings the camera near enough to cut out 
everything but her figure. In that day, she was usually 
just a detail in a large scene. Never once does Bernhardt 
appear closely enough or exclusively enough to let us 
see clearly her magnificent, darting changes of expres- 
sion. It is as though we viewed her through a veil or 
through the wrong end of the opera glasses. 


226 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

American directors, when they began with long 
films, repeated the same mistake and added some of 
their own. Held down in the period of their education 
to one or two reels, obliged often on those stingy terms 
to reproduce a whole complicated novel such as Lorna 
Doone or Camille^ they sacrificed everything to swift, 
packed action; and the habit persisted in the new, 
ampler era. Tess of the Storm Country ^ a film which 
carried the fame of Mary Pickford over the world, 
never gives even the star a real chance to impress her 
personality upon her audience. When she pleads, she 
rushes into the scene like the victim in a “chase” 
picture, throws herself abruptly on to her knees, delivers 
a set of whirlwind gestures, rushes out. So compressed 
and complicated is the action that none of the intelligent 
party with whom I witnessed this film could afterward 
make a synopsis. Its furious hit seems now a little 
inexplicable. 

Passing over two years, we come to David Harum 
with W. H. Crane — as fine an actor on the screen as 
behind the footlights. Now the film is approximating 
modem technique of stage management. The director 
brings Crane’s effective bits near to us, gives him a 
chance to impress upon us a quaint and lovable person- 
ality. The important points of the story are emphasized 
and developed with some leisure; the unimportant 
slurred over. No child in the audience can fail to under- 
stand what it is all about. Photography itself has taken 


THE TIDE ROLLS ON 


227 


a few steps forward; has learned to emphasize the 
important. Tess of the Storm Country in its original 
form — afterward Mary Pickford remade the whole 
thing — is archaic; David Harum^ except for the long 
hobble skirts of the women, might have been filmed 
yesterday. 

Credit for these improvements belongs not wholly or 
even chiefly to that Zukor-Lasky group whose fortunes 
I am following. A director or cameraman cannot copy- 
right his tricks and devices any more than an author 
can copyright his peculiarities of style. As soon as they 
appear on the screen, rivals study them and adapt or 
imitate. Others, now that their shackles had fallen, had 
begun to experiment on a large scale. Griffith, while still 
with Biograph, produced in Judith of Bethulia the first 
of our grandiose scenic films. The pack coursed after 
him; companies began ranging the world for famous 
locations such as the canals of Venice, the Roman 
Forum, the country houses of England. . . . That ex- 
pensive method also has grown archaic. Clever scenic 
artists now build from laths and “staff,” in the corner 
of the lot, Romes or Venices or Constantinoples so 
realistic that natives, when they see the film, cannot tell 
the difference. Breaking loose from all management 
and scraping together the capital wherever he could find 
it, Griffith produced from Thomas Dixon Junior’s The 
Clansman his twelve-reel masterpiece The Birth of a 
Nation. Released just after Europe went to war, it re- 


228 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

vived in this country the animosities and controversies 
of the Civil War. It cost perhaps $100,000 — an un- 
precedented sum — and it yielded millions. Out-of-the- 
way houses are showing it yet, for it tells a story simply 
and with a sure instinct for essential points. Thomas 
Ince was beating his own way toward modern form. 
Charlie Chaplin, becoming his own director, was finding 
new possibilities. Douglas Fairbanks, creator as well as 
actor, was climbing from the ruck. Fox had discovered 
Theda Bara, who wrote “vamp” into the language. 
These discoverers dragged to tinsel glory in their trail 
such new stars as Mae Marsh, Norma Talmadge, Mary 
Miles Minter, Lillian and Dorothy Gish. 

The “serial craze,” bom of a newspaper circulation 
war in Chicago, rose, blazed, and vanished. This film 
fashion is now so very dead that it needs description. 
A producer put forth a weekly series of multiple-reel 
melodramas, tied together by a leading woman and an 
insoluble mystery — as The Perils of Pauline^ The Ad- 
ventures of Kathlyn^ or The Million Dollar Mystery, 
Concurrently, a newspaper printed the “running story” 
and offered a prize for the best solution of the mystery. 
It ran its course in less than two years. Zukor, for one, 
refused to be tempted by its glittering possibilities of 
quick returns. “Our policy is high-class films,” he said. 
“Besides, it won’t last.” However, it gave directors a 
large field in which to experiment, and served further 
to educate the screen in technique. 


THE TIDE ROLLS ON 


229 


Meantime, the moving picture had come definitely 
out of the back streets. At first in the second-class cities 
and then in the first-class, theatre after theatre closed 
scene lofts and dressing rooms, denied all booking to 
road companies, and revamped its interior for purposes 
of the screen. The more enterprising showmen were 
beginning to instal orchestras. Then, attacking the 
citadel of the enemy, the screen moved on to Broadway, 
even to Times Square, the heart thereof. Always by now 
the more pretentious films opened in some Broadway 
theatre, for the purpose of adding to its New York re- 
ceipts the initial prestige of a New York run. The Tri- 
angle Company took over the Knickerbocker Theatre 
as an all-time moving-picture house. Marcus Loew had 
gone quietly forward these seven or eight years acquir- 
ing theatres all over the country, operating them in 
circuits on his formula vaudeville and pictures at 
popular prices.” Already he had a Times Square theatre. 
Now, he altered the formula to “pictures and vaude- 
ville.” Michell Mark built — on a scale considered very 
large in those days — the Strand, first New York play- 
house designed from its inception for moving pictures. 
Zukor, Loew, Mark — all three passed through that little 
Penny Arcade which they considered at the time such an 
unlucky venture, but which proved the touchstone for 
their fortunes. Now “picture men,” passing in and out 
of the Hotel Astor, could see all up and down the Great 
White Way the electric signs that flashed proclamation 


230 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

of their spectacular rise. The Astor was as a mining 
camp where the newly rich, in exalted bewilderment, 
bandy fortunes and chatter in millions. . . . 

And three thousand miles away, Hollywood had 
advanced far along the road from its origin as a sleepy 
Western village dozing among orange groves to its 
bizarre destiny. Already it was coming to be the most 
famous town of its size in the world. Lasky with The 
Squaw Marly first long film produced in the West, and 
with his subsequent productions, had crystallized that. 
Doubtless in any event the business would have found 
its centre of production near Los Angeles. That region 
offers open winters, a maximum of sunny days, actinic 
light, infinite variety of scenery and architecture; and 
the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, in soliciting 
new industries, misses few tricks. But except for the 
accident of the rented bam, destiny might have struck 
some other suburb than Hollywood. 

American production began, of course, in New York, 
the theatrical centre. By 1916, however, some of the 
greater companies were working exclusively in Holly- 
wood or its sub-suburbs. Culver City and Universal 
City. For a long time. Famous Players-Lasky split its 
artistic forces. Zukor, when he began his series of 
combinations, was planning his great studio in Long 
Island City, twenty minutes by subway from Times 
Square. Completed, Famous Players-Lasky used it for 
nearly ten years. After 1916, however, the Hollywood 


THE TIDE ROLLS ON 


231 


studio under Lasky carried most of the production. 
There was then a good reason for this division. Long 
Island City lay close to Eastern and European “lo- 
cations.” When, for example, Waldemar Young put 
Hergesheimer’s Java Head into screen form, George 
Melford, the director, took his whole company to old 
Salem, setting of the novel. To-day — as I have said 
before — the studio scene painters build their locations 
on the lots. In two weeks they would construct on a 
half acre all the old Salem they needed for their pur- 
poses. 

Further, New York’s heterogeneous millions fur- 
nished a supply of unusual types, forms, and faces for 
special bits. But the beautiful and odd, the vain and 
ambitious, crowded so fast into Hollywood that soon 
every imaginable type stood registered in the books of 
the casting director. “If you want in a hurry a cross- 
eyed Lithuanian waiter who can act,” said Lasky once, 
“or a dyspeptic, one-armed Arab, you may have to 
search for some time in New York. But in Hollywood — 
you can have him on the lot that afternoon.” In 1926 — 
to go far ahead of the story — Zukor and Lasky closed 
the Long Island studio, and concentrated all the studios 
at Holl3rwood. Others preceded or followed this move- 
ment ; to-day, not a single first-class company produces 
habitually in the East. Yet from its towers of Times 
Square, New York governs the finances of the business, 
carries on most of its distribution, opens and exploits 


232 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

all its more pretentious creations. In no other American 
industry do management and distribution lie so far 
apart from production — three thousand miles of dis- 
tance, four days by the fastest train. This could not be 
if the goods which the moving-picture companies make 
and sell were bulky. But one man can easily carry a set of 
negatives representing an expense of from $200,000 to 
$500,000; and in a pinch the studios send their un- 
printed films from Los Angeles to New York by air mail. 


CHAPTER XIX 


A CONQUEST OF WORLDS 

1 HAVE mentioned the European war casually, as 
though it were an episode only faintly pertinent to this 
subject. In fact, it affected profoundly not only Adolph 
Zukor’s enterprises but all that bizarre business which 
he was leading toward the status of a major industry. 

Even in the primitive age when the screen presented 
only scenery, street episodes, and trick effects of pho- 
tography, producers trafficked back and forth across the 
Atlantic. We witnessed in New York the waves break- 
ing on the chalk cliffs of Dover; London saw our fire 
department in action. Apace with us the Europeans, 
and especially the French, passed from scenes and tricks 
to stories. During the first decade of the century French 
films, by all artistic standards, excelled ours. I have told 
how, flaunting our superstitions, the French dared in 
1911 to produce the four-reeler Queen Elizabeth. Nor did 
they hesitate to exploit their actors. Max Linder, under 
no curse of anonymity, anticipated Charlie Chaplin as 
an artistic comedian. Presently, British, Italians, and 
Germans were producing for the market. Indeed the 
Italians, taking advantage of their history and their 
historic backgrounds, advanced to the full-length 

*33 


234 the house that SHADOWS BUILT 

Cabiria and Quo Vadis, films which no one has as yet 
exceeded for scenic beauty. 

No comparative statistics of early exports and im- 
ports survive. It seems likely that European films had 
for a time the favourable balance of trade. Then came 
our “Westerns.” In old days the American Wild West 
dime novel enjoyed a great vogue in Europe. Melodrama 
was its essence; and simple souls love that. To the 
routine-bound European townsman and peasant it 
carried news of a wild, free atmosphere “where men are 
men.” The Western films played on the same tastes. 
They were a furious hit, especially on the Continent. 
During the first stages of the European catastrophe, 
the French built in Paris their “ Pantheon de la Guerre.” 
Panels distributed through this panorama portrayed 
the leading statesmen and generals of the Allies, with 
representatives of the people in their national costumes 
and plying their typical tasks. When we entered the 
war, the French painted a panel for us. A group of cow- 
boys in chaps and of Indians in war bonnets represented 
— exclusively — the American populace. The Western 
film stood responsible for that! 

Presently, the balance of trade swung decisively our 
way. In the days of the Trust, such pioneers as Blackton 
saw the opportunity abroad, and worked to extend and 
to solidify the European market. As the Trust disin- 
tegrated, our foreign distribution passed into a period 
of confusion, though sales went steadily ahead. When 


A CONQUEST OF WORLDS 235 

toward the end of 1912 Zukor set the fashion for the 
long film, European distribution had settled down to a 
condition resembling our old states’ rights system. A 
dealer in films either acted as agent for the American 
producer, or bought for a lump sum the right to dis- 
tribute in his country. 

Zukor placed his early films in the hands of a London 
agency. The Prisoner of Zenda sold well; and Mary 
Pickford’s first long films brought from Great Britain, 
the Colonies, and the Continent very solid returns. 
Early in his operations, Zukor appointed Emil Shauer 
foreign manager. As a department-store buyer Shauer 
had learned his Europe; and as a showman, his films. 
In 1914, when the Powers were growling and mobilizing, 
Zukor found in the Paramount Company a secure and 
ample channel of distribution on a large scale. In 1916, 
while the German batteries still poured horror on Ver- 
dun, he soldered Paramount to his own machine. As 
others fell in and followed this type of organization, the 
inter-firm competition of America extended itself to 
Europe, and from there to remoter lands. 

1 A remarkable and important coincidence, this. Just 
when the American moving picture bounded ahead of 
its European competitors, just when it perfected its 
business machinery, a blight fell upon Europe. Mobil- 
ization closed the studios of France, then of England, 
finally of Italy. . . . Late in 1917 , 1 saw a small company 
of women and elderly men acting before the camera in a 


236 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

hotel lobby at Marseilles; and it looked like the last 
gasp. In this respect as in others Britain tried to main- 
tain “business as usual,” but before 1918 she gave up 
the struggle. Italy stayed with the game a little longer, 
and even in the heart of war made out of a gigantic actor 
who tossed oxen over the shoulder and carried a six- 
inch gun up the mountains with the Alpini, something 
of a star. But before the Armistice, she, too, was virtually 
out of the game. And this low curve of the European 
business coincided exactly with our greatest period of 
expansion. 

Yet Europeans, even more than Americans, were gone 
mad for amusement — anything to make them laugh, 
make them forget, carry them out of themselves. The 
war blighted the spoken theatre, an unessential industry. 
The male actors and craftsmen were mostly of military 
age; they had rushed, or had been drafted, into the 
ranks. By 1917 the few anaemic reviews still showing in 
London got along with all-girl choruses and with crippled 
demobilized leading men. Into this vacuum poured the 
flood of American films. Mary Bickford’s sunny curls, 
Mae Marsh’s girlish innocence, and Theda Bara’s 
sinister allure sweetened the war for millions of young 
and impressionable soldiers. Charlie Chaplin threw all 
Europe into hysterical war-laughter. I saw company- 
comedians imitating him in the trenches. As with 
America, so with Europe; the moving picture came out 
of the back streets. “Cinema houses” thrust into the 


237 


A CONQUEST OF WORLDS 

environs of Trafalgar Square, into the Boulevards, the 
Corso, Unter den Linden. And more and more as the 
European supply fell away and as ours improved, they 
showed American films. 

Even after we declared war, the American motion 
picture raced madly onward. At times, volunteering 
and the draft disorganized both Holl3rwood studios 
and New York offices. But the war weighed upon us 
rather lightly; and always other human material flowed 
at once into the vacuum. We concentrated four million 
young men into camps; they must needs be entertained 
and kept out of mischief of nights. The simple, portable 
moving picture solved this military problem. Our four 
million young soldiers had to watch moving pictures, 
whether they wished or no. This served further to con- 
firm the habit with all classes of Americans. 

When, the war finished, the Europeans tried to strug- 
gle back into production, it seemed as though they had 
fallen twenty years behind the times. The great Amer- 
ican companies had by now perfected their system of 
foreign distribution and were cultivating the field 
intensively. The more ambitious films were all produced 
with an eye to the export market. In Hollywood or New 
York, specialists on foreign races edited and cut export 
films to fit the tastes, prejudices, and government regu- 
lations of fifty nations. For example: the English- 
speaking peoples like a happy ending. The Germans 
prefer an unhappy ending; the gloomier the better. 


238 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

The Latins dislike to see the logically unhappy outcome 
of a situation twisted illogically to bring the scattered 
family together, the hero and heroine into each other’s 
arms. It clashes with their inborn sense of form and art. 
So almost from the birth of the foreign trade in long 
films, producers were making two endings — one for the 
United States, Great Britain, and the Colonies, another 
for Continental Europe, South America, and the Orient. 
Foreign importers and jobbers of American goods used 
to complain that our manufacturers refused concessions 
to the tastes and wants of alien races. Had leadership 
in our motion-picture business remained with the old 
stock, Holl3nA^ood might have made the same general 
mistake. But Zukor, and all the men who followed him 
into larger fields, were either born in Europe or only one 
generation removed from its soil. They had the inter- 
national mind. 

^ When the world ceased firing, American films were 
travelling by every conveyance from aeroplane to llama- 
back into the atolls of the South Pacific, the highlands of 
the Andes, the jungles of Africa, and — of course — even 
the smallest hamlet of western Europe. How widely 
the trade has spread stands illustrated by one scene in 
De Mille’s The King of Kings. The Christ stoops and 
writes in the sand with His finger. The inscription was 
part of the film itself; it could not be replaced with a 
translated title. So the director had this scene photo- 
graphed twenty-eight times for twenty-eight languages 


A CONQUEST OF WORLDS 239 

ranging from French and English to Arabic and Chinese ! 

Before the European producer summoned energy 
and capital to compete with us, foreign audiences were 
growing accustomed to American scenes and ways — 
thinking of the screen in American terms. Also, as 
France, England, and Germany began to organize for 
production, they encountered a special commercial 
obstacle. Under stress of competition, the greater 
American producers were narrowing the margin between 
receipts and expenditures. Presently, they had so 
arranged things that they merely “broke even” on the 
domestic sales, and looked to the foreign market for 
profit. A European, building toward world-wide distri- 
bution, faced a hopeless, desperate situation. No other 
country in the world had so much as a quarter of our 
revenue from the domestic exhibition of a picture. We 
could make a “million-dollar film” pay for itself at 
home. The foreign producer, on the same terms, could 
afford to lay out no more than from ^200,000 to $250,000. 
He could not naturally pay his actors or directors the 
inflated prices of Hollywood. As soon as a foreign star 
like Pola Negri or Em.-i Jannings rose high in the heav- 
ens, Hollywood prices drew him or her to California. 
Almost unchecked by native production, the American 
moving picture swept on to conquest of every country 
in the world. From eighty-five to ninety per cent, of the 
films shown abroad came from the United States. This 
in face of frantic official efforts to encourage European 


240 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

production and by propaganda, censorship, and even 
embargo, to discourage American imports. 

Yet even if Europe had met us, during the period 
when the motion picture was finding itself, in equal and 
unfettered competition, we might have swept the world 
just the same. Probably they would have created pic- 
tures more acceptable to critical taste; but this narrative 
concerns itself with the motion picture as an industry, 
not as an art. The modern American stock, with its 
romantic background and its mixed origins, has positive 
qualities which equip it for this very job. 

To begin with. Heaven endowed us above any other 
peoples with a developed narrative sense. We are story 
tellers. The peasants and wood cutters in the cafes of 
France and Belgium or Germany talk politics, primitive 
philosophy, even music and art. Northwestern lumber- 
men smoking in the shack after supper, Arizona cow- 
boys squatting round the camp fire, fishermen mending 
their nets on the Gloucester wharves, tell racy anecdotes 
of self-experienced or vicarious adventure. The short 
story is our one first-class achievement in literature. 
We put this faculty into our films. Assisted by the 
imaginative Russians, the Germans have of late pro- 
duced motion pictures excelling ours in sheer art. The 
sophisticated and the critical rave over Dr. CalagarVs 
Cabinet and The Last Laugh: but the populace remains 
calm. In these great films, and even more in the ordinary 
product of German, French, and British studios, there is 


A CONQUEST OF WORLDS 241 

one common flaw. The story limps. It seems confused, 
illogical, ineffectively told. And the average European 
spectator — in fact, all the world of common folk — loves 
a story; demands subconsciously, even as children do, 
that it shall “hang together.” 

However, personality is the best-selling piece of 
goods in the theatrical manager’s pack. In four cases out 
of five, the humble auditor or spectator does not carry 
away any specially vivid memory of that story which 
bases and frames the whole structure. He remembers 
only the flashing gorm of Douglas Fairbanks plying a 
rapier, the soft expressiveness of Rudolph Valentino 
making love, the refined charm of Florence Vidor, the 
alluring, restrained emotionalism of Lillian Gish. If 
the story halts or falters, he analyzes the defect only so 
far as to remark, “Fairbanks wasn’t very good in this 
film.” 

And here, according to the majority of anal3rtical 
managers, America has its best hold. As Lasky says, 
“Other peoples may hate America as America, but no 
one actively dislikes the American type.” Even when 
solid German type blossoms into beauty, subtly it dis- 
turbs or irritates the Latin. By the same rule, the north- 
ern peoples have for centuiies made Frenchmen, Italians, 
or Spaniards their stage villains. The screen personality 
of Valentino was so extraordinarily attractive, the 
tragic expressiveness of Jannings is so overwhelming, 
as to overcome instinctive prejudices; they, however. 


242 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

are among the exceptions which prove the rule. When 
Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford went abroad, 
Madrid, Rome, and Paris welcomed them as hysteri- 
cally as London, Moscow, and Berlin. Curiously, Lasky 
adds, the British have the same quality. Though other 
races may dislike the abstract Empire, they cherish no 
aversion to the concrete type. However, the Briton’s 
lifelong training in repression of emotion hampers him 
as a pantomimist. Our manners have run to the other 
extreme; while we do not weep with the unrestrained 
naturalness of the Latin, generally we throw our emo- 
tions to the surface. Perhaps the British will learn the 
trick. That is why some of our lords of the moving 
picture believe that the menace to our supremacy will 
come — if it ever does come — not from Berlin but from 
London. 

Finally, war or no war, Europe would have encount- 
ered eventually the same financial obstacle — the popu- 
lation and the per-capita wealth which enable us, before 
we send a film abroad, to spend with millionaire lavish- 
ness on a production and get our money back from the 
domestic sales. 

Perhaps the “talking movie” is on its way; perhaps 
within a decade managers may present Hampden in 
Shakespeare or Gemier in Moliere, with complete illus- 
ion of motion and voice. How that may effect the “silent 
drama,” no one can guess. Certainly, the talking film 
cannot become international like the one-dimensional 


243 


A CONQUEST OF WORLDS 

picture of to-day, Hampden’s productions will go only to 
the English-speaking countries, Gemier’s only to France 
and her colonies. If its vogue supplants that of the older 
form, the international motion-picture business will 
simply fall apart into national groups. Artistically this 
would mark an advance, probably; but socially a retro- 
gression, Whatever may be the sins of the silent film 
nothing else in history has so advanced that world-wide 
acquaintance between peoples which is the beginning 
of understanding. Unconsciously, those fur workers, 
small salesmen, clothing operatives, and vaudeville 
performers who brought the moving picture out of the 
back streets, were creating the first universal language 
of mankind. 


CHAPTER XX 


EXIT MARY PICKFORD 

The historian dealing with circumstances as complex 
as those which gathered round Adolph Zukor in 1916 
must take one important thread at a time and follow 
it to its end; otherwise he is writing only annals and 
chronology. When I branched off into the adventures 
of the American film abroad, I left Zukor in control 
of his own distribution and in the act of paying Mary 
Pickford $10,000 a week. Her relations with Zukor’s 
firm then and subsequently have their important bear- 
ing on the history of the moving picture. 

Mary Pickford, said the business, was Adolph Zukor’s 
mascot. When finally he lost her, pessimists and de- 
tractors prophesied his early finish. That stroke of luck 
— finding Pickford — had made him; her departure 
would leave Famous Players-Lasky a hollow shell. 
Indeed, any superficial observer might have said the 
same. Time and again, this ever-expanding business had 
drawn near to a danger point when the latest Pickford 
film, selling even beyond anticipation, hauled it over 
the peak. 

In her memoirs, Ellen Terry calls “working friend- 
ship” between men and women the cream of human in- 


244 


EXIT MARY PICKFORD 


245 


tercourse. On the stage woman first achieved her full 
freedom; and until the last generation, that sturdy re- 
lationship was confined to the stage. From the first, 
Mary Pickford and Adolph Zukor had one of these 
working friendships. They are just enough alike to under- 
stand, just different enough to admire. Not alone to a 
golden curl, a pair of soft eyes, and the unfair gift of 
personality does Mary Pickford owe her astonishing 
success. Underneath, she has the same hard mind as 
Adolph Zukor, the same steely persistence, the same 
all-pervading intelligence, and the same financial 
shrewdness tempered with generosity. Their tempera- 
ments “clicked.” 

“I always liked his ideas,” says Mary Pickford. 

“She taught me a great deal. I was only an apprentice 
then; she was an expert workman,” says Adolph Zukor. 

On the surface, this understanding expressed itself in 
a father-and-daughter attitude. A survivor of those 
symposiums in Daniel Frohman’s study remembers that 
Mary Pickford came one night in a dress with very 
short sleeves. It worried Adolph Zukor all the evening. 
She might catch cold; and besides it wasn’t exactly 
modest for a girl of her age ! Again one night, a year or 
so later, Mary Pickford dined with Mr. and Mrs. Zukor 
at a Broadway hotel. As darkness fell and the white 
lights of Broadway came out full blaze, Zukor asked her 
mysteriously to leave the table and follow him. He led 
her to a window on the mezzanine-floor hall, posed her, 


246 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

bade her look up and tell him what she saw. Down the 
front of the theatre opposite ran her own name in electric 
lights — the announcement of her promotion from Class 
B to Class A. She was to be a great star now, advertised 
and exploited on a parity with Mrs. Fiske and Hackett. 
“ I suppose there were tears in both our eyes,” says Mary 
Pickford. 

Personal feelings, however, did not in the least cramp 
their style when it came to bargaining and trafficking, 
any more than it would have hampered them in a 
friendly game of cards. Otherwise they would have 
esteemed each other less. When Mary Pickford’s star 
began its rise, she was under contract to Adolph Zukor 
at ^20,000 a year. Shortly other firms were paying 
lesser luminaries more than that. This she told Adolph 
Zukor. “All right, let’s be happy,” said he; and he made 
it $1,000 a week. Again, after The Good Little Devil began 
sweeping the world, he advanced it to $2,000 a week and 
then in January, 1916, to $4,000. This was an unprece- 
dented salary for the stage — a third again as much, re- 
marked the newspapers, as we were paying our Presi- 
dent; for in that age of comparative innocence we still 
applied the old measuring rod to incomes. 

In the summer of 1916, Mary Pickford’s contract with 
Famous Players-Lasky expired. The whole motion- 
picture business knew that; the greater companies, then 
at that stage of existence when a corporation struggles 
for a sure foothold, prepared for a spirited contest in 


EXIT MARY PICKFORD 


247 


bidding. At that moment Mary Pickford blazed above 
all other stars like the ascendant Venus over the constel- 
lations. The rise of Charlie Chaplin came a little later; 
yet Chaplin had just signed with the Mutual Company 
for ^10,000 a week and a bonus. Any firm could afford 
to lose money on her for the prestige she gave its other 
productions. At this crisis of her affairs, she was working 
in Hollywood. Between pictures, she came to New York, 
the financial centre of the business. The hammering, 
the polite, insinuating approaches, had begun before she 
left California. She saw Adolph Zukor, told him frankly 
that she was worth more money. 

‘T agree with you,” he said; but he made no offer. 

“Well, before I sign with anyone else. I’ll see you 
again,” said Mary Pickford. 

Forth she went to a round of blandishment and enter- 
tainment and to a first-class impersonation of feminine 
hesitation and capriciousness. Half a dozen times the 
ink was wet on the pen with which she was to have 
signed; and always at the last moment she drew daintily 
back. First to raise the ante was an agent of the Ameri- 
can Tobacco Company, which still felt disposed to 
trifle with motion pictures. He offered ^7,000 a week. 
Vitagraph raised it again. John R. Freuler of the Mutual 
Company, which already had Chaplin, capped the stric- 
ture. He laid before her a contract which meant virtu- 
ally a million a year. There the bidding stopped; it had 
reached the peak. Mary Pickford had taken pains to 


248 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

keep Zukor informed as to the status of negotiations. 
Now, the soft blue eyes with steel behind them faced 
across a desk the hazel eyes with unplumbed depths. 

I’m going to give you half of the profits of your films 
and a voice in selecting them,” said Zukor. “And a 
guarantee of ten thousand dollars a week. And, Mary, 
that’s my limit. Others may offer you more. But it’s 
as much as I can afford.” 

Mary Pickford did not stop to haggle. When the 
Chief spoke in that tone, she knew by experience he 
meant finality. A little discussion of details, and she 
was signing the contract. Why she did this, in view of 
a better offer, puzzled the motion-picture business at 
the time. There is no mystery about it. “ I like to work 
with him,” said Mary Pickford to a confidant. “We 
have the same ideas. We’ve been down in the world and 
up in the world together, and I’m sure of him. And ten 
thousand a week is enough. Lord knows! Besides, he’s 
established. I don’t have to worry about getting my 
money.” 

Even yet, Mary Pickford did not realize fully what 
had happened to her. By instinct, she was still child of 
the road, worrying lest the ghost fail to walk on Satur- 
day night ! 

While war gathered and burst upon us, while our 
volunteers swarmed to arms, while our ships rushed 
full speed ahead into the North Sea blockade, the motion 
picture continued on its mad, triumphant course. 


EXIT MARY PICKFORD 


249 

Scarcely had Mary Pickford begun work in the Holly- 
wood studio under her new contract when the unrestful 
business had another upheaval and Adolph Zukor saw 
another creeping danger. 

Production, distribution, and exhibition are the three 
main branches of the industry. Zukor, by his judiciously 
bold stroke in 1912, had revolutionized production; and 
by his victory over Hodkinson in 1916 had placed dis- 
tribution in its modern relation to the business as a 
whole. Now, he began to look ahead into the future of 
exhibition, and to worry. Moving-picture houses, 
springing up like mushrooms all over the United States, 
were showing a decided tendency to assemble into 
“strings.” Next the strings were twisting together into 
strong ropes which might yet strangle the producers. 
Corporations in New England, the Middle West, and 
California owned their ten, fifteen, even twenty-five 
new, well-equipped city theatres. They bought on the 
wholesale plan. Already, they were beating down prices. 
The time might come when the more powerful groups 
would combine and hold producers at their mercy. It 
was ['the danger which Zukor had foreseen when he 
fought for control of Paramount and of his own distri- 
bution; one step further removed, but the same. 

However, the impetus which started the industry on 
its third great movement toward modern form came 
not from Adolph Zukor but from an unexpected source 
and in an unexpected manner. J. D. Williams, who got 


250 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

in Australia a wide education as an exhibitor, and T. L. 
Tally, who owned many theatres in and about Los 
Angeles, spawned early in 1917 a brilliant idea “Let 
the exhibitors own production.” With this idea in mind, 
they incorporated the First National Exhibitors’ Cir- 
cuit. Chaplin and Pickford were still the symbols of 
suprem.acy. First National proposed to corner them and 
the other great stars by offering a virtual partnership 
and guarantees exceeding even the swollen salaries of 
the moment. Otherwise, between the first rough scenario 
of a picture and the twenty-five-cent piece of the 
spectator at the door, there would be only one profit — 
that of the associated exhibitors. 

Williams and Tally toured the country, selling the 
idea to theatre owners. The “programme system,” then 
just beginning, galled some of the exhibitors; and the 
idea of producing for themselves fascinated them all. 
First National, while it still existed only on paper, 
signed up so many important exhibitors that the banks 
gave generous backing. Williams and Tally had been 
hammering at Chaplin; now began a bidding match for 
his services between them and Mutual, his present em- 
ployer. An offer of $1,075,000 for eight two-reel pic- 
tures, with certain conditions regarding liberty of ex- 
pression, won him over. Two-reel pictures, notice, 
Chaplin was still working in that archaic form, still 
throwing custard pies. Not until he settled down with 
First National did he begin to appear as sole star in long 


EXIT MARY PICKFORD 


25 1 

films and to achieve with the critical and sophisticated 
his standing as an artist. 

Mary Pickford, however, was still the first prize. 
And again she was straining at the leash. After she 
signed the ^io,ooo-a-week contract, Famous Players- 
Lasky sent her to the Hollywood studio. Zukor, “whose 
ideas she liked,’* remained in New York, growing more 
and more absorbed in business, paying less and less at- 
tention to art. The lot at Hollywood had grown into a 
veritable factory, with the eight or ten productions go- 
ing on at once. The management had of course become 
complex, a little impersonal. The intimate touch of those 
old days when they threshed out scenarios in Daniel 
Frohman’s apartment had passed forever. The silver 
cord of personal understanding frayed and snapped. 
Aware of this. First National approached her with its 
blandishments. Presently she was in New York again, 
receiving homage and attention. “A share of the profits, 
your own way as an artist, and ^250,000 guarantee on 
each picture,” said First National. Mary Pickford car- 
ried the news to Zukor; he had heard it already. Ham- 
mered by two factions in his company — Pickford and 
anti-Pickford — he had thought out his answer for him- 
self. 

“I’m going to offer you,” he said, “just what you’re 
worth to me. That’s a share of the profits and ^225,000 
guarantee a picture.” 

“This time. I’m not going to sign with you for less 


252 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

than anyone else offers me,” replied Mary Pickford. 
The meeting was formal; both were drawing a front of 
cold, commercial efficiency over inner fires of emotion. 
Mary Pickford went back to the headquarters of First 
National. And the next day she called up Zukor on the 
telephone. 

I’m about to sign that contract with First National,” 
she said. “Have you anything to say to me?” 

“Only God bless you, Mary, and I wish you well!” 
said Adolph Zukor. And so after five years, during which 
she had risen from a minor actress to a world celebrity, 
Mary Pickford departed from Famous Players. 

Zukor, walking it out and thinking it out, had reached 
one of his far-sighted conclusions. Mary Pickford, for 
all her value, was reducing him to the position of a tail 
to the kite. The large corporation which he had built, 
the larger business combination which he envisaged, 
could not forever depend upon the uncertainty of one 
human personality. “ Better to let her make her way for 
awhile, and go on our own,” he said at the conferences 
in his office. Some day, he felt, she would come back; and 
meantime he would have proved that Famous Players- 
Lasky was bigger than any one star. 

In that last expectation, his foresight failed. He is far- 
thinking, but not after all a prophet. Within a few 
months, the kaleidoscope turned again and the business 
assumed another of its dazzling new patterns. This time 


EXIT MARY PICKFORD 


2S3 


perhaps the first definite movement came trom a 
schism in his own office force. 

When Paramount so dramatically elected Hiram 
Abrams president, he assumed the management of the 
re-oriented company, and remained in that capacity 
after Famous Players-Lasky took it in as a subsidiary. 
Zukor promoted Ben Schulberg from the press depart- 
ment, and installed him as assistant manager. From the 
first, the aggressive Abrams and the dominant Zukor 
worked badly in harness; by 1918 came friction so severe 
that it began to burn out the bearings. Zukor took the 
extreme course : he discharged Abrams. Now Schulberg, 
as he says himself, is a one-man dog. In old days he had 
been fiercely loyal to Zukor; serving under Abrams, he 
transferred his allegiance. He sat half that night in 
Zukor’s house, quarrelling with the Boss. 

“If he goes, I go,” he said. 

“Very well, Ben,” replied Zukor, at the end of his 
persuasiveness, “but you’ll come back some day.” 

The prophecy touched off Schulberg’s temper. 

“I’ll come back when you send for me, not before!” 
he stormed as he bounced out of the room. 

• (Eight years later Zukor offered Schulberg, who had 
adventured much in the meantime, the position of pro- 
duction manager at Hollywood. Schulberg could not re- 
strain himself from saying, “Well, you sent for me!” 
“Yes,” said Zukor. “What’s a litde pride between 


254 the house that SHADOWS BUILT 

friends? You’ve learned a lot while we’ve lived apart, 
and you’ll be much more useful to us.”) 

Burning for eminence and revenge, Schulberg and 
Abrams sat for days analyzing the motion-picture busi- 
ness in its larger aspects, looking for an opening. “And 
we found one as wide as the Grand Canon,” said Schul- 
berg. First National intended to do away with all middle- 
men — one profit from studio to box office. But the stars, 
even though they enjoyed a share in the profits, must 
divide earnings with the company. Why should not the 
great stars, solely and entirely, own the producing com- 
pany? Abrams and Schulberg made a list of the su- 
premely eminent — Mary Bickford and Charlie Chaplin, 
of course, the new-risen Douglas Fairbanks, W. S. 
Hart, David Wark Griffith. All these had elastic agree- 
ments with their employers or were nearing the termina- 
tion of existing contracts. A week of intense thought 
and calculation, then Abrams and Schulberg started 
for Hollywood with a complete plan in their portfolios. 
They had managed for two years the biggest system of 
distribution in the United States. They proposed to 
perform that function for the new company, and to take 
for recompense twenty per cent, of the gross receipts — 
they of course paying the expenses of distribution. 
That would yield a handsome profit. 

To the day of his death, Hiram Abrams declared that 
he and Ben Schulberg jointly invented the plan which 
flowered into United Artists. The stars assembled in 


EXIT MARY PICKFORD 


25S 


this galaxy tell a story somewhat different. When 
First National began to talk of middlemen’s profits, 
these five great figures of the screen — ^who one and all 
owe their eminence not only to art and personality but 
to shrewd minds— had themselves carried reasoning a 
step further. Their personalities were the staple of this 
business, the indispensable element. Why should they 
pay a producing company its heavy profits ? They edged 
together; discussed, even to details, the possibility of a 
business owned by its talent. Even before Abrams and 
Schulberg erupted into Hollywood, United Artists was 
on its way. 

These accounts are not irreconcilable. And at any 
rate, the complete and well-considered plan of Abrams 
and Schulberg was the agent which crystallized the solu- 
tion. Chaplin, first approached, listened and promised to 
enter the combination “if the others would.” Fairbanks, 
Mary Pickford, and Griffith gave the same tentative 
answer. Hart, at first favourable, withdrew on second 
thought. The great vogue of the “Western” was passing; 
romantic plays in modem and familiar setting were 
sweeping the boards. He had now smaller box-office 
value than the other four; he feared lest their superior 
drawing power would thrust him into a corner. The rest, 
tutored in business technique by Abrams and Schulberg, 
proceeded with a tentative organization. The news 
spread through Hollywood, of course. Lasky relayed it 
over hot wires to Zukor. Rumour exaggerated United 


256 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

Artists into a “talent trust” which would eventually 
absorb all the actors and directors, great and small, and 
produce not only the super-film of Pickford, Chaplin, 
and Fairbanks but the staple programme-films of the 
rank and file. 

The rumour of a trust was perturbing; and thesituation 
at best looked bad enough. Griffith, Hart, and Fair- 
banks all belonged now to Zukor’s artistic forces; the 
rising Fairbanks, indeed, had begun to compensate him 
for the loss of Mary Pickford. Again Zukor hurried 
West. Amidst the glittering interior decorations of the 
new Hollywood there were meetings, conferences, and 
arguments which broke at times into emotion. Schulberg 
had drawn up “Eighty-nine Reasons for United 
Artists,” designed to cover every possible point of argu- 
ment. Fairbanks said afterward, “One night I was up 
against Zukor. When he had me going and I felt like 
crying, I would go out into the hall and read over my 
copy of the Eighty-nine Reasons until I got a grip on 
myself.” But the four stars held firm. 

Then, just as they were all ready to sign, a counsellor 
of one of the stars saw a perturbing danger. Mary 
Pickford’s marriage with Owen Moore was drawing to 
its inevitable close. Everyone on the inside anticipated 
the divorce which came a year later. 

“Suppose now,” said this objector, “Mary Pickford 
does get a divorce and Zukor orders his publicity de- 
partment to hammer on that point Mary stands to 


EXIT MARY PICKFORD 


257 

the American public for fresh, girlish innocence. A 
divorce story, rightly handled, could hurt her a lot. 
And Zukor’s a ruthless fighter.” 

Angry though he was with Zukor, Schulberg kept his 
sense of justice. 

“He’s a fighter, all right,” he replied, “the toughest 
that is. But there’s one thing he’ll never do — bring up a 
personal issue, especially against Mary Pickford. You 
can bet your bottom dollar on that. Don’t I know him ? ” 

Still, the galaxy hesitated. If Zukor wouldn’t do such 
a thing, some other rival might. Then someone had the 
idea which resolved the situation. Just after the Armis- 
tice, Douglas Fairbanks had formed a pleasant acquaint- 
ance with William A. McAdoo, Secretary of the Treas- 
ury. The Wilson administration was falling to pieces. 
McAdoo, Lane, and most of the other Cabinet officials 
were looking round for positions in private life. The 
President’s son-in-law, the arbiter of American business 
during the war, already a contender for the Democratic 
nomination — McAdoo’s name would lend impregnable 
respectability. At a salary of ^100,000 a year, he became 
chief counsel for United Artists. And now, the galaxy 
signed up; went ahead. 

Only, as McAdoo analyzed the new organization he 
put his finger on a weak spot. 

“The stars own their business and take all the profits 
clear to the box office — that’s the idea, isn’t it?” he 
asked. “Very well. Now here, right in the middle, you’re 


258 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

giving Abrams and Schulberg twenty per cent, of the 
gross and letting them make their profit. You ought to 
own that, too.” Abrams and Schulberg saw that his 
logic was past argument. After some haggling, they 
accepted an offer of two per cent, of the gross receipts 
in lieu of salary. United Artists to pay all expenses. 

Fairbanks was now gone forever from Famous Play- 
ers, and Mary Pickford, and Griffith. Yet Zukor, as he 
rushed east to his office, felt a sense of relief. This was 
not a trust in formation. It did not intend to gather up 
all the talent, small and large, under one tent — a process 
which might lead in the end to general degradation 
of the business. It was just a company of first-rate 
stars, presenting a ‘‘high-class product.” On those 
terms he could compete. As cheerful as ever, he glided 
into the anxious conferences awaiting him in his offices; 
began at once to lay out a new programme for the next 
year. 

He threw to the fore screen versions of best-selling 
novels and dramas with long Broadway runs. He re- 
tained still such tried and successful actors as Pauline 
Frederick and Blanche Sweet. Gloria Swanson, rising 
fast, presently stood peer to Mary Pickford; Tommy 
Meighan filled the hole which Fairbanks had left. 
Famous Players-Lasky expanded as usual, returned 
dividends as usual. In 1916, the trade papers, with inner 
apologies to the gods of truth, had echoed the press 
agent who called it a ^25,000,000 combination. In 1919, 


EXIT MARY PICKFORD 


259 


the sober financial statement at the annual meeting 
showed that it was a $37,000,000 combination. Zukor 
had grown, but so had the whole business. No longer, 
perhaps, did he run at the head of the pack. But at 
least he was in the thin front line of the van. And then, 
as now, he stood symbol for leadership in his business, 
like Ford in automobiles or Gary in steel. 


CHAPTER XXI 


THE SOIL OF THE EARTH 

HAVE reached 1919, the year of the peace. Seven 
years now since Adolph Zukor took the fate of an indus- 
try into his own hands and plunged; and in the compli- 
cated story of his acts during this period I have some- 
what neglected the man. As his fortunes expanded, so 
did his scale of living. First it was the apartment in 
Eighty-eighth Street, then a mansion on Riverside 
Drive. The urge for exercise and the habit of keeping 
fit persisted. But he had “slowed up” for tennis, as do 
most men in their forties. With equal enthusiasm he 
took to golf, and entered the innumerable company of 
those who “play around a hundred.” He found time 
now and then for a little bridge or poker — at which he 
is as proficient as one might expect — and to indulge at 
opera or symphony his passion for music. A sociable 
being, he entertained lavishly. Otherwise he worked 
and thought. 

All this time there were worrisome, perplexing private 
troubles. The surviving Zukors and their wide con- 
nection by marriage were feeling the tragedy of all inter- 
national families in the late war. It lacked only the 
supreme tragedy: divided allegiance. So far as the 

260 


THE SOIL OF THE EARTH 261 

American branch retained any interest in European 
politics, they held the old-fashioned Hungarian attitude 
toward the Dual Monarchy and the German alliance. 
The Dual Monarchy was a convenience, a temporary 
arrangement binding them to no loyalty of sentiment 
toward Germans either of the north or of Austria. But 
the blow had fallen; willing or unwilling, their European 
kinsmen must go into the ranks. The thing was stripped 
to its human values — pure calamity. Before the war 
ended, thirty-eight men of the Zukor-Kohn-Kaufmann 
connection abroad wore uniforms; and after we entered, 
eight of the American branch. Young Eugene Zukor, 
far below draft age, enlisted in the Navy. A1 Kaufmann 
became a captain in the Signal Corps, fought overseas, 
then remained abroad to manage Paramount’s Euro- 
pean theatres. Matching notes after the war, one of the 
American clan found that he had lain for a week in the 
trenches firing at an Austrian company in whose ranks 
served his own cousin! 

During the first two years, the American clan, and 
Zukor especially, helped support the women and chil- 
dren among their European kinsfolk. They, like all 
women and children of Europe, were struggling along 
with farm and shop while the breadwinner fought at the 
front. Owing to his temperament. Rabbi Arthur Lieber- 
mann was a special problem. His brother sent remit- 
tances for his support and comfort. They lasted just one 
day. The Rabbi would collect the money, take it to the 


262 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


railroad station where the refugees were pouring in 
before the Russian attacks on the eastern frontier, and 
give it all away. Zukor was arranging to guard Rabbi 
Liebermann against his own generosity when the red 
cloud settled upon us also, and remittances must cease — 
for sending money to a relative on the other side of the 
barrier constituted technical disloyalty. 

Throughout the war, Zukor and all the family con- 
nection were shipping their concentrated product in 
increasing quantities and at increasing prices to all the 
Allied nations. Yet by odd circumstance, the Allies 
practically excluded their persons. American citizens 
all, they were nevertheless “of enemy birth or origin.” 
Even though they forced or cajoled an entrance into 
Great Britain, France, or Italy, they would live and 
move under espionage and dark suspicion. When in 1916 
Charlie Chaplin signed his contract for ^10,000 a week, 
the British press stormed and fulminated at this born 
Briton who remained in America making money while 
the Empire stood in peril. Only a manoeuvre of com- 
mercial propaganda, this. With exactly the same motive 
and inspiration, the British press denounced The Big 
Parade in 1925 as “a piece of Yankee boastfulness” — 
while from the Hebrides to the Lizard it packed houses 
and scored record runs. 

It needed but one unforeseen incident to start a hue 
and cry, just as insincere, against these Americans of 
“enemy origin” who were cutting so deeply into an 


THE SOIL OF THE EARTH] 263 

Allied industry. The clan sat quiet in America, carry- 
ing on the business. When we entered, they gave their 
sons to our armies, their treasure to our war-chest. 
As our government, somewhat tardily, organized its own 
foreign propaganda, it incorporated the film into the 
general plan. William A. Brady became temporarily 
chaperon and dictator of the moving picture in its 
relations with the war. Just before Germany broke, our 
official films were ready. Thenceforth until the sudden 
end, all American programmes going abroad carried 
twenty-five per cent, of propaganda pictures. 

The war drew to its victorious end. Zukor had worked 
like a truck horse and thought like a dynamo for six 
years, during which he had led a minor business into 
the state of a major American industry. Both the war 
and the necessities of the job had denied him those 
leisurely jaunts through Europe by which habitually he 
restores his forces. In all that period, he had taken no 
real vacation. Again, his nerve ends cried out with 
fatigue; the itching irritation of his skin was becoming 
chronic. The specialists advised a long rest. That was 
impossible to Zukor; but he could change his way of 
living. With his own large sanity, he decided to drop the 
life of Manhattan with its exciting dazzle, its cloying 
allurement. 

, In a bend behind the palisades of the Hudson he found 
an estate of three hundred acres with a substantial stone 
house. Here he established himself. When he made this 


264 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

remove, he was taking it as medicine; the country had 
never attracted him. But it was as though his back- 
ground came forward and enveloped him, as though the 
blood of a thousand ancestors who farmed the hill-slopes 
of Hungary rose up in his veins. Suddenly, he grew 
enamoured of the pastoral life. He added seven hundred 
more acres, transformed the stone building into a kind 
of communal kitchen, dining room, and living room, 
connected it by arcades with a guest house and a sepa- 
rate residence for his immediate family. As years went 
on, bringing a fantastic increase of income, he laid out 
a private golf links, a gardened swimming pool below 
gardened tennis courts, greenhouses, herds of blooded 
stock, even a little theatre for private exhibitions of 
moving pictures. 

From his office on Times Square, his automobile takes 
him in less than an hour, his power boat in less than 
forty minutes, to the gates of this estate. And it seems a 
thousand miles from Broadway. The Palisades, sloping 
on their landward side to abrupt hills, rim it to eastward 
as with a segment of a bowl. The houses stand on a 
series of knolls which look even to the maroon hazes of 
distance over clipped meadow and thick forest. Through 
its heart a brook, alive with brown trout, cuts for itself 
a miniature canon and drops over a waterfall. The 
district surrounding Zukor’s find dwells an hour from 
Broadway in a state of pastoral innocence. The pioneers 
were an offshoot from the original Dutch settlers of 


THE SOIL OF THE £ARTH 265 

New York; the butcher, the banker, the grocer, the 
farmers on abutting lands bear Knickerbocker names. 
But alas, the realtor has of late discovered this charming 
Sleepy Hollow and wayside boardings are beginning to 
forecast its doom! 

This country home has become Zukor’s hobby. Eight 
months of the year he leads here an existence sur- 
rounded by sturdy comfort and unostentatious luxury. 
When winter banks the roads and locks the Hudson, he 
either makes one of his dashes to Europe or establishes 
himself in a hotel suite. For the rest of the year — four 
days a week he goes to the office by automobile or motor 
boat and works with all his vicious concentration, but 
Friday, Saturday, and Sunday he keeps for his own and 
stays on the farm. A round or two of golf, long walks 
wherein he inspects and plans, a game of bridge or a 
pre-view of a new film, much pleasant sociability — that 
has become his real life. 

A visitor found him regarding one of his tall fir trees, 
just felled for a flag pole. He looked up. “It’s a pity to 
kill a thing so beautiful,” he said, “ I like to preserve, not 
kill.” Then his eye wandered over the vistas of his broad 
acres. “There wouldn’t be much satisfaction about a 
place like this,” he commented, “if someone else did 
it all for you. Planning it yourself and seeing it grow — 
that’s the joy. I suppose I’ll be improving this farm 
until I die!” 

Here of late he has held his important conferences 


266 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

with heads of departments; here for week-ends come 
such lords of finance and politics as have high business 
with the screen. The guest book is almost a roster of 
American eminence. Perhaps the atmosphere is most 
characteristic, however, on those off-weeks when there 
are no celebrities in the guest house and the clans of 
Zukor, Kaufmann, and Kohn gather. On his relatives by 
marriage, Zukor exercises his complex for the blood- 
relationships of which fate robbed him. Sometimes he 
sits at the head of the great table in the dining room with 
forty relatives-in-law strung out before him. There is, 
too, the nursery, where play the four babies presented to 
him by those satisfactory children, Eugene and Mildred. 
A delegation of European moving-picture producers, 
coming to Zukor for a conference of international 
importance, found him on the lawn, fifth member to a 
game of tag. . . . His studios and offices have sensed the 
growth of this paternal and patriarchal quality; and his 
office nickname — behind his back — is “Papa Zukor.” 

Father to Ricse also! When the war ended, when Bela 
Kuhn’s impermanent government fell, when the Treaty 
of Sevres tore Hungary from her Austrian alliance on 
one side and her rich Transylvanian provinces on the 
other, the triangle of grain-fields and vineyards between 
Ricse, Szanto, and Szalka knew hard, uncertain distress. 
An economic system had been torn limb from limb ; the 
wounds bled. Ricse had food, perhaps, but little else. 


THE SOIL OF THE EARTH 267 

Even before pathetic after-war letters brought news of 
past bereavement and present distress, the newspapers 
had reported the quandary of rural Hungary. Zukor 
ventured on his first European trip in nearly five years. 
He proceeded to Budapest. Rail traffic was paralyzed, 
and, in the disturbed political condition, the dictator 
had forbidden the country roads to automobile traffic. 
Zukor employed a lawyer and a man of business, both 
wounded veterans of the war, chartered a motor hand- 
car, and ran down to his birthplace. After a conference 
with the town council, Zukor set up his own relief organ- 
ization. The lawyer and the man of business sat at a 
desk; Zukor established himself behind a screen, listen- 
ing unseen to Ricse as it filed past, telling its troubles. 
This woman needed a major operation, but she had no 
money even to get her to Budapest, where there were 
hospitals and good surgeons. This woman’s husband 
had died in the war, and there were six children to sup- 
port. This farmer had come home disabled with wounds, 
and Hungary could grant no funds for relief of its hu- 
man wreckage. This brood of five children had lost 
their father in battle, their mother in the distress that 
followed dismemberment of the Empire. At night, Zukor 
took the lists of cases and set down opposite each name 
a sum of money; noted, according to circumstances, 
whether it should be a loan or a gift. Superficial distress 
relieved, he went deeper into the economic structure of 
the district. He financed the important flour mill — of 


268 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

which his uncle Ignatz was still main owner — and the 
winery; showed them the way to find regular markets. 
Now, half of Ricse corresponds with Adolph Zukor; 
one transatlantic mail brings him sometimes forty or 
fifty letters. He keeps for his Ricse correspondence a 
special drawer of his desk; sometimes when Eugene 
Zukor bounces into the office with the announcement 
that the car is waiting, he finds his father running over 
the naiVe and pathetic epistles, and has to call him back 
four thousand miles to the Broadway of reality. . . . And 
when he goes to Budapest nowadays, the lively, at- 
tractive Hungarian world of art and letters hails him 
like a crowned monarch.^ 


CHAPTER XXII 


THE CAPSTONE 

David Wark Griffith and Adolph Zukor had in 
the old obscure days worked side by side in Four- 
teenth Street: the one as a director, throwing his own 
stories on the screen at a salary of fifty dollars a week; 
the other as a minor exhibitor, wringing small and pre- 
carious profit from five-cent admissions. When the tide 
of fortune began racing, they rode it together. However, 
their careers, while running parallel, touched only once. 
In 1917, after many fruitless efforts, Zukor tempted 
Griffith with a salary of $3 ,000 a month and drew him 
into the producing staff of Famous Players. Now, less 
than two years later, Griffith had left him to enter 
United Artists. Zukor, having failed to prevent this 
formidable combination, was departing from Hollywood 
when Griffith met him. And they talked over the situ- 
ation with the brutal frankness of old friends. 

“I know what you’ve always wanted to do, Adolph,” 
said Griffith — “ lead the world as a super-producer. And 
for six or seven years you have led. But now the artists 
have taken things into their own hands. It’s our day” — 
Griffith is to be pardoned if in the fresh enthusiasm of a 

269 


270 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

new venture he overstated the case — “and you must 
look elsewhere for your supremacy. Meantime, life has 
forced you to become a man of finance, not an artist. 
Life’s always playing these tricks on us. It’s time you 
began to own theatres. Production is a bit of a gamble. 
But theatres are bricks and mortar and land. Savage, 
Ringling, and all the others who have accumulated 
fortunes from the show business made their big money 
out of real estate. Loew’s doing just that thing right 
now.” So spoke Griffith, he of the uncanny instincts. 

The far-sighted Zukor needed no such advice. Three 
years before, he had begun to see that theatre owners 
might in the end dictate to producers and distributors. 
After all, they held the box office; the dam-gate to the 
flood of gold. But in less than seven years he had revo- 
lutionized production in a business which was increasing 
from millions to billions, had put system into distri- 
bution, and had done it on less original capital than it 
takes to produce one first-class modern feature film. He 
had neither time, energy, nor capital to spare for this 
final struggle. Already, the multiplying costs of the 
business, its rapid expansion, had forced him to go to 
the public with a modest issue of stock. Moreover, 
United Artists was a serious threat; to meet it took for 
a time all his energies. Then came the brief hard times 
of 1920, when moving pictures suffered along with all 
other luxuries. 

However, one Monday morning Zukor entered the 


THE CAPSTONE 


271 


office in his working mood and telephoned to Felix 
Kahn, owner of the Rivoli and Rialto theatres in the 
Times Square district. Fifteen minutes, and Kahn was 
in his office. Twenty minutes, and Kahn departed. Then 
Zukor glided into Lasky’s office. The artistic director of 
Famous Players was editing a troublesome scenario. 

“ Fve just bought the Rialto and Rivoli theatres as 
key houses for first New York showings,” said Zukor. 
“WeVe been needing something of the kind for a long 
time.” 

“That’s nice,” replied Lasky absently, and bent him- 
self again over the scenario. 

From this beginning Famous Players-Lasky, acting 
through a subsidiary, began judicious purchase of 
theatres and partnerships in theatres. First it was a 
string in New England, then one in the South including 
the Howard at Atlanta. Even so. Famous Players- 
Lasky remained a minor figure in exhibition. For once 
Zukor was following, not leading. When he began large- 
scale production, when he systematized distribution, he 
was tilling virgin soil. But a half-dozen producing com- 
panies, including the pioneer First National, the emi- 
nent United Artists, the sensationally expanding Metro- 
Goldwyn, had preceded him into this field. Zukor held 
his own through special if impermanent arrangement 
with this and that string of independent houses, while 
he waited for an opening. It came presently; and again 
from the West. This introduces another set of those 


272 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

immigrant annals which are to our democracy a modest 
triumph and to Europe a fairy tale. 

In 1906 Sam Katz, being then fourteen years old, 
began to work his way through a Chicago high school. 
When Sam was less than a year old, his father had fled 
from oppression in a Russian ghetto, reached Chicago, 
and, taking the first job that offered, became a barber. 
In the course of years he acquired a shop of his own. 
“Like any Russian Jew, he had two ambitions for his 
son,” says Sam Katz, “a general education and an 
accomplishment.” Sam showed a talent for music; so 
when he was eight years old, his father bought him his 
first piano lessons at twenty-five cents an hour. How- 
ever, he had no real musical ambition. As he plotted his 
life, he intended to work his way through high school. 
Northwestern University, and law school, and set up as 
an attorney. 

1 One Saturday night in 1906 — the very year when 
Adolph Zukor seriously entered exhibition — Sam Katz 
went to a moving-picture show on the South Side. Carl 
Laemmle owned the house as a modest member of his 
little string; and a patent-medicine performer with a 
bifurcated beard managed it. Falling into conversation 
with the doorkeeper, Sam learned that they needed a 
pianist. The manager, approached, gave him a tryout. 
He passed triumphantly. 

When at Sunday morning breakfast Sam broke the 
news to his parents, Katz Senior said, “Why don’t you 



After the fire. Ruins of the Famous Players studio in Twenty-sixth Street, 
New York. The safe containing all of the company's films can be seen 
clinging to the wall to the dipper right 



The Paramount Building. Housing the Paramount Theatre, 
leader in the Puhlix chain of theatres, this building towers 
thirty-nine stories above Times Square, New York 



THE CAPSTONE 


m 


tell me that you’ve taken a job as a bartender and be 
done with it?” and Mrs. Katz wailed. However, on his 
solemn promise to resist the temptation of this low 
environment, Sam had his way. During his whole 
freshman year at high school, he “pounded the box” 
with an open Latin grammar, for study in odd moments, 
propped up on the music rack. 

One night, just by way of making conversation, Sam 
Katz asked the patent-medicine man how much their 
store show made. “Between three and four hundred 
dollars a week — net,” he replied. Three or four hundred 
a week! 

Next morning at breakfast Sam imparted the news 
to his parents. “ If I were you. Dad, I’d can the barber 
shop — tear out the chairs and turn it into a moving- 
picture show,” he added. “There’s millions in it.” He 
glanced up in time to see his parents exchanging sup- 
pressed smiles. 

Then Abe Baliban, tenor, came to the little Laemmle 
house with a sentimental song-slide. Their mutual inter- 
est in music drew him and Sam Katz together. Both saw 
millions in moving-picture exhibition. Next autumn — 
Sam being still in high school — these two and Abe’s 
brother Barney opened a show of their own. It was a 
converted store, with the marks where the shelves had 
been still decorating the walls. The audience sat on 
second-hand benches or decrepit kitchen chairs about 
a very hot stove. Barney Baliban took the tickets, pur- 


274 the house that SHADOWS BUILT 

chased the films, generally managed the enterprise; 
Sam Katz played the piano and Abe Baliban sang for 
the song-slides. So, they saved the hire of two employees. 

By the end of Sam’s sophomore year in high school, 
Baliban and Katz had made so much money that they 
were branching out. They added another show, another, 
and still another. This last — modest enough by modern 
standards — was perhaps the most pretentious motion- 
picture theatre of its period. Sam Katz had recruited 
ushers from his fellow students in high school, and 
dressed them in flashy uniforms. Out of the high-school 
orchestra he selected a pianist, a violinist, and a ’cellist 
to play incidental music; began even the daring inno- 
vation of rehearsing them with the film. ... A d5mamic 
boy, this, also, beyond his abilities and energies he had 
the unfair gift of personality. As that spruce little 
figure and that ever-smiling face entered a room the 
atmosphere seemed to brighten. All men of his kind 
liked him on sight. 

When Sam Katz marched across the platform to get 
his high-school diploma, he was earning $400 a week; 
and his skeptical father had long since closed the barber 
shop and gone to managing one of the Baliban and Katz 
houses. Sam had found his affairs so pressing that he 
must needs now and then drop out of school for a term. 
But he was still steering for his major objective: the 
law. He had his programme laid out; he would take two 
years at Northwestern and the full course at law school. 


THE CAPSTONE 


275 


By that time, he hoped to have ^50,000 in cold cash 
with which he could start a law business and start it 
right — no clerkship or minor partnership. 

The newspapers were moralizing on “the film craze” 
and hinting at its impermanence. Sam Katz more than 
half agreed with them. He felt utter contempt for the 
trash he was feeding to his public; and certain film 
producers whom he had met showed minds and imagi- 
nations so limited as to intensify his skepticism. He was 
simply working a little bonanza while the boom lasted. 
He entered Northwestern, devoting his days to improv- 
ing and cultivating his mind and his nights to planning 
and devising for the Baliban and Katz theatres. 

Then in the summer of 1912 a states’ rights buyer 
offered them that epoch-making film Queen Elizabeth. 
Baliban and Katz had it projected; and Katz came 
away in a blaze of illumination. Here was a four-reel 
film, superbly photographed by an artist with the 
camera, acted by the greatest figure on the modern 
stage. Someone “was putting brains onto the film.” 
He had been thinking of exhibition on the old terms — 
as something akin to saloon keeping and in his special 
case a fortunate avenue to a respectable career. For the 
first time, he entertained the idea that there was a stable 
future in this business. Behind Queen Elizabeth came 
The Prisoner of Zenda and Mary Pickford’s early pro- 
ductions in the long film. These banished all doubtv 
The thin vein was opening toward a mother-lode. 


276 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

The Baliban brothers saw the light also. Within the 
year — Sam Katz being still a student at Northwestern — 
they drew up plans and found loans for a great moving- 
picture palace which they called the Grand Central. 
Sam Katz was too young to vote, and the Baliban 
brothers still in their twenties. In their inexperience 
with big business, they made the usual mistakes. Also, 
the outbreak of the European war increased the prices 
of labour and material bevond their calculations. Only 
the steadily increasing revenues of their small theatres 
pulled them through. 

But early in 1917, the Grand Central, as ambitious a 
playhouse as the moving picture knew up to that time, 
opened the doors of its majestic and glittering audito- 
rium. It was legitimate ancestor to such palaces of the 
moving picture as Roxy’s on Seventh Avenue; the same 
great auditorium, the same gaudy effects of gold and 
high colour, the same orchestras, scenic effects, vaude- 
ville support. By now, Sam Katz had transferred his 
ambition, for it seemed foolish to renounce such oppor- 
tunities. Also, he wanted to get married. In 1916, being 
then in his twenty-fourth year of age and his second of 
law school, he closed his books and entered the harbour 
of matrimony. 

Adolph Zukor came out to Chicago for the opening of 
the Grand Central. Ever since he saw the first Famous 
Players films, Sam Katz had admired this pioneer. Their 


THE CAPSTONE 


277 


ideas gibed — “a high-class production and nothing else.” 
In those days, the serial mystery film was sweeping 
Chicago. Sam Katz had done his best to keep such 
fustian out of his theatres. With approval he noted that 
Zukor had never adopted this easy way of making 
money. They fell together at once. Zukor had one of his 
rare loquacious moments. He talked so eloquently on 
the future of films — always provided the producers kept 
to a high level — that he left the brilliant boy of twenty- 
five his follower and disciple. During the next three 
years Baliban and Katz, on the profits of the Grand 
Central, opened three more first-class theatres in Chicago 
and began to stretch a web of houses through the Middle 
West. And they all served unofficially as exhibition out- 
lets for Famous Players-Lasky. 

In 1920, Zukor and Katz had another long talk, this 
one less satisfactory. Production, Zukor remarked inci- 
dentally, was the heart of the business; and on this he 
disserted at some length. Now Sam Katz was still in his 
twenties, and a born enthusiast. To him, the world re- 
volved about exhibition; the producers and distributors 
were only feeders to the theatre owner. First National, 
owned and conducted by exhibitors, had long been 
hammering at Baliban and Katz. Returned to his office, 
Sam Katz drew up in parallel columns reasons why and 
why not he should throw in the fortunes of the company 
with First National. “ Some of the reasons, I know now, 


278 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

were unsound/’ he says, “but at the moment the ‘yeas’ 
appeared to have it.” 

He won over the Baliban brothers — and entered 
First National. A year or two more, and he found him- 
self discontented with that connection, veering again 
toward Zukor. By 1923, Baliban and Katz, through an 
interlock too complicated for description here, became 
main outlet for the Famous Players-Lasky films — the 
connection for which Zukor had been looking. And in 
1925 was formed Publix Theatres, a subsidiary of 
Famous Players-Lasky. It drew in all the Paramount 
houses in the South and New England, the Baliban and 
Katz interests, a few smaller strings. Sam Katz, being 
then but thirty-three years old, came on to New York 
to serve as manager. Seven Baliban brothers had reached 
years of discretion; and all work in the Middle West as 
sub-managers for Publix. There are some seven hundred 
theatres in this string, including one important house 
in each “key city” — the towns which set fashions for 
their subsidiary regions, as Denver for the Rocky Moun- 
tains, Atlanta for the Southeast. 

At about the same period. Paramount began spotting 
Europe with big theatres of its own; the “key-city” 
plan again. Now, the chain runs from Vienna to San 
Francisco. And as it lengthened, Adolph Zukor, a 
showman to his bones, conceived the idea of one great, 
dominant mother-house, symbolical of all his business. 
Four or five years before he broached this plan to his 


THE CAPSTONE 


279 


associates, he bought the property at the northwest 
corner of Forty-third Street and Broadway; a Southern 
gate to Times Square. He carried the existing building 
as a taxpayer until the Publix string was completed; 
then, in 1926-27, rose the thirty-story Paramount 
Building; theatre de luxe below, housing for his enter- 
prises above. Roxy’s palace of the cinema in Fiftieth 
Street is probably the last word in glittering, pre- 
tentious, tinselled framework for moving pictures. But 
the Paramount, set cunningly near those entrances of 
the subway by which most spectators enter the City of 
Delights, seems to dominate Times Square. Amorphic 
in some aspects, merely pretentious in others, in still 
others massive and imposing, its veiled illumination 
makes it by night all wonder and mystery. And in these 
contradictions it symbolizes the institution which gave 
it being — the motion picture with its shallowness and 
yet its profound influence on international comities, 
its shimmering beauties and yet its tawdriness, its 
educative value and yet its defiance of orderly thinking, 
its realism of scene and setting and yet its romanticism 
of action and plot. . . . 

;i It stands a symbol in another way — the capstone of a 
career. Adolph Zukor had now rounded this strange 
business of his into final form. At all stages, from the 
raw film to the screen, he controlled his product. 
Stretching from the Paramount Building round the 
world ran an organization as delicate as a watch and 


280 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

as regular. Sidney Kent, risen in this last stage to general 
management under Zukor, is dynamo to its armies of 
high-priced specialists and experts, its conventions and 
its pep-clubs. And all about, the motion-picture busi- 
ness has assumed j somewhat the same form. The day 
of the small independent producer has passed. The 
industry, after all its kaleidoscopic shiftings, has settled 
down into seven or eight corporations or groups, all of 
which manage their own distribution and possess or 
control their own theatres. 

New and odd as is this industry of making life out of 
shadows, it has not escaped the general law of any great 
American business. Some pioneer starts it on the tra- 
ditional shoestring. It grows, combines, takes in abut- 
ting interests; this brings the need of extensive capital; 
and it goes to Wall Street. When Zukor began buying 
theatres, the first modest issue of common stock was 
followed by a larger double issue of common and pre- 
ferred; and from then on a bankers’ committee sat with 
the management. The rival firms, generally speaking, 
have come to the same harbour. And a detached observer 
seems to behold the first sign of a new struggle, between 
artists who by instinct waste with the prodigality of 
nature, and bankers who conserve. -- H 

Meantime Famous Players-Lasky, which began in 
1912 with Adolph Zukor’s little fortune of three or four 
hundred thousand dollars, reported in 1926 resources 
of $149,000,000. American business, with its spectacu-' 


THE CAPSTONE 


281 


lar achievement, has often accomplished such miracles 
of rapid accumulation. However, in most other cases 
the astronomical sum of its final capitalization repre- 
sents values already in existence when the founder began 
his work. This does not. It is a feat of sheer creation. 


CHAPTER XXIII 


THE MAN AND THE MIND 

<iAs I write, Adolph Zukor is fifty-four years old; and the 
work is done that he was born to do. Looking out from 
his tower on late winter afternoons, he beholds a field 
of glittering electric signs which proclaim the triumph 
of his idea. They mark the moving-picture houses which, 
stably and exclusively, hold Times Square. As though 
in revenge for the days when Broadway snubbed the 
hoydenish cousin of Union Square, they have pushed 
the spoken theatre into the side streets. His creation 
stands rounded and complete. What with his native 
constitution, his moderation in eating and drinking and 
his systematic exercise, he may have twenty years of 
work still in him. But the rest will be an easy pull up a 
gentle slope. Struggle is over for him — and perhaps his 
creation. 

So, as though he were already dead, we may make 
some inquiry into the kind of man who wrought these 
things, and try to answer that eternal question of the 
success-bound American: “By what qualities denied 
to me has he risen?” 

A question not easy to answer. The real Adolph Zukor 
lives deep, hidden by reserves and by an instinctive 
shyness. His very oldest associates, to whom he has 

282 


THE MAN AND THE MIND 


283 

clung for the twenty years of his rise, say that although 
he has expressed his feeling for them by a hundred 
generosities, they read his affection only in his acts; 
never has he so much as hinted it by words. Around no 
man eminent in American business have there gathered 
so few anecdotes. He does nothing to create anecdote, 
either by pleasant folly or by flash of wit. 

Not that he has a cold personality, even to the casual 
acquaintance. At all stages of his career men have liked 
him on sight. He has, to begin with, a masculine comeli- 
ness which probably influences subconsciously even his 
own sex. And his stillness strikes the beholder not as an 
absence of motion but as a balance between infinite 
energies — “like a spinning top.” He smiles habitually; 
and when he meets a new acquaintance, he has the air 
of waiting for him to say something pleasant ; of expect- 
ing it. Then, as the stranger begins to do business with 
him, impression of that comely, quietly engaging person- 
ality begins to fade; wiped out by perception of that 
round, full skull, that close mouth with the tight grip 
over the short, close-biting teeth of a fighter, that 
radiation of power. . . . 

i The teeth do not belie his character. He is a fighter, 
resembling in that one of those soft-stepping, soft- 
spoken shooting men rated as the most dangerous va- 
riety in the old West. Not that he is contentious or 
quarrelsome. He joins battle only when some human 
obstacle bars his way to one of his large purposes. Then 


284 the house that SHADOWS BUILT 

he fights with everything he has; inside of the rules, but 
otherwise ruthlessly. He gives no quarter while the 
struggle is on, though he is perfectly capable, on the 
day after the armistice, of handing a beaten adversary 
a stake to start him anew in life. It is impersonal fight- 
ing; win or lose, he holds no grudges against a fair ad- 
versary. There are those among his intimates who call 
this his supreme personal quality. “Courage is his 
secret,” says one of them. “Or perhaps I’d better call it 
pluck. He’s a great gambler with life; and long after 
everyone else has been frightened out of the game, he 
stays on.” 

He is crafty in battle, as the story of his struggle with 
Hodkinson shows, and also supremely resourceful. Once, 
in the days when the business was shifting like a 
kaleidoscope, an executive in the firm of Shubert bought 
a substantial share in a rival motion-picture company. 
This was that day of triumph for the Shuberts when 
they had just downed Klaw and Erlanger and seized 
the supremacy in theatrical booking. It seemed that 
they were about to enter motion pictures; with their 
control over houses, they would make most formidable 
rivals. Broadway scented a new battle. In the capacity 
of peace maker and friend of both parties, William A. 
Brady visited Zukor, and proposed a meeting. 

“All right, Billy,” said Zukor, “but I never go into 
a fight without a gun.” 

The newspapers, next morning, explained this cryptic. 


THE MAN AND THE MIND 285 

Zukor had purchased outright Charles Frohman Inc., 
a firm left orphaned by Frohman’s death on the Lusi- 
tania. At the moment, it stood unsurpassed for prestige. 
This was a notice of a counter-invasion. With some 
difficulty, Brady got Zukor and Lee Shubert, next 
evening, into a private dining room of Claridge’s. They 
talked nearly all night. None but they knows exactly 
what happened; but though Shubert kept his motion- 
picture stock and Zukor owns Charles Frohman Inc. to 
this day, invasion and counter-invasion stopped there. 

Temperamentally, he is a creator, an artist — perhaps 
in the last analysis those two words are synonyms. He 
shows that in his very habits of work. Like an artist, he 
gives himself forth in bursts; periods when what he is 
doing absorbs all his waking hours, varied with periods 
of indolent relaxation. In American business, these 
creative spirits always plough and seldom reap. They set 
afoot new movements or methods, but usually their 
temperament unfits them for that second stage, when 
siege and fruition demand stable organization. Zukor 
made the transition painlessly; showed himself equally 
able as an originator and an administrator. His abilities, 
indeed, seem marvellously fluid. I have told how he 
astonished Brady with his self-taught expertness at 
accounting. And no one associated with him in produc- 
tion of moving pictures doubts that, had not circum- 
stances intervened, he might have fulfilled his ambition 
to become a high artistic director of motion pictures — a 


286 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


figure like Reinhardt on the speaking stage. Two natures 
work within him; an artist and a man of affairs. But 
instead of struggling, they have struck a balance. 

At balance also stand two seemingly irreconcilable 
traits: humility and confidence. For all his ambition, he 
seems little interested in Adolph Zukor. No man I have 
ever known talked with less ease and relish about him- 
self. I have told how he viewed Jesse Lasky’s early 
pictures and, finding them better than his own, decided 
to form a combination. He always approaches a rival, 
they say, in that same spirit — tries to find his points of 
superiority and learn where he himself is inferior. “A 
man should love his work,” he said in one of his epi- 
grammatic moments, “ but when he falls in love with his 
own work, he’s finished!” For all the burning ambition 
to wield power and to lead which drove him through 
his thirteen most active years, honours and flatteries 
mean little to him. . . . 

When the Paramount Theatre opened, all Who’s Who 
in New York attended the preliminary reception. Next 
day, he and Lasky went for a walk and an intimate talk. 
Passing a Childs Restaurant when Zukor found himself 
suddenly hungry, they entered and ordered. Suddenly 
Jesse Lasky laughed. “I was just thinking,” he said, 
“of that splendid ovation yesterday — and here to-day 
we’re lunching at a Childs Restaurant!” 

Zukor looked up in surprise. “Why not.^” he asked. 
“The food’s good, isn’t it.?” 


THE MAN AND THE MIND 


287 

Yet when his mind is made up to any course, even the 
most daring, he proceeds with an utter, calm confidence, 
which belies this instinctive humility. In 1921, just 
when he was straining every resource to acquire theatres, 
broke the famous “Hollywood scandals.” The moving- 
picture stars, attractive young persons suddenly risen 
from poverty, found themselves possessed of incomes 
running between ^100,000 and ^500,000 a year. While 
most of them spent tawdrily and ostentatiously, they 
were generally far too busy for much dissipation. 
Moving-picture acting, under modern conditions, is 
hard work. A minority, however, behaved as did a 
minority of the Osage Indians when a quirk of fate 
threw $12,000 a year into the laps of every man, woman, 
and child among them. Heavily advertised in their 
merits, they were advertised also in their defects. Wal- 
lace Reid went to pieces, died, was buried to the requiem 
of newspaper moralists. W. D. Taylor, director, was 
murdered. No one knows to this day who did it, but 
gossip radiated from the little, intimate circle of Holly- 
wood to the farthest comer of the globe. Finally came 
that squalid episode — the death of Virginia Rappe, in 
Roscoe Arbuckle’s hotel apartment. This accidental 
episode was worse, much worse, for the reputation of the 
moving picture than any tragedy of intention; the story, 
as the newspapers began to bring it out, had a soiled 
and nauseating cast. At the moment “Fatty” Arbuckle 
figured importantly in the general scheme of Famous 


288 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 


Players-Lasky.They had films of his, mostly unreleased, 
representing more than a million dollars in cost of pro- 
duction, much more in potential profits. 

Zukor did not hesitate even for a day. “Withdraw 
them,” he ordered. 

“Permanently?” asked his office force. 

“Yes; kill them,” said Zukor 

And they were withdrawn, though the transaction 
destroyed most of the year’s earnings. Zukor, looking 
as usual into the future, had formed a plan to meet such 
an emergency if ever it rose. He approached the execu- 
tives of the other great companies; within a month. Will 
H. Hays, politician and church warden, had left the 
President’s Cabinet and sat enthroned as moral dictator 
of the American moving picture — Cato of a voluntary 
censorship. 

A successful administrator, Zukor has, of course, his 
skill in picking men, his art in managing them. He likes 
long-term service. He will reach out and grab a star 
actor as quickly as any manager; for what a star can do 
he has already learned from that screen which is the only 
test. He is slower in selecting an executive; he keeps his 
prospect under observation for some time — as he did, 
for example, in the case of Sam Katz. For “what a man 
does to-day he will do next Monday,” he says. Once 
employed, Zukor likes to keep him for life. In managing 
men, he conceals the iron hand under the velvet glove. 
Now and then, in face of utter stupidity or treachery,^ 


THE MAN AND THE MIND 289 

his old temper breaks forth. The intelligent and efficient 
he manages in such way as not to let them know that 
they are being managed. 

“I have worked with him for fifteen years,” says one 
of his veterans, “and I’ve made my serious mistakes. 
Never yet has Zukor reproved me. Only when the crisis 
is over, and I realize as well as anyone what I’ve done, 
he glides into my office and says, ‘ Next time do it this 
way. . . . 

These, however, are only external characteristics. 
Let us get at the mind underneath. 

The contradictory mixture of humility with confi- 
dence and over-veering ambition derives probably from 
some knot of consciousness tied in the early, obscure 
years of childhood — an inferiority complex compounded 
of his obscure, unhappy origins, his smallness of stature, 
his shadowing by a brilliant brother whose powers 
blossomed earlier. Such an implanted trait, developing 
its abnormal protective mechanism, runs in some able 
spirits into arrogance; as witness the comparatively 
mediocre Mussolini and the genius Napoleon. Zukor has 
avoided this defect of his qualities, and the cause, 
probably, lies partly in his steely will and partly in the 
character of his intelligence. 

Governing his impulses and emotions sits enthroned 
the diamond-hard mind of his race. It is a realistic in- 
telligence. Almost passionately, it tries to see things as 
they are, whether those things concern Adolph Zukor 


290 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

or some hated rival or merely an abstract problem. 

There are two classes of high intelligence. The pos- 
sessor of one kind is called by the shallow a creature of 
instinct. He seems to leap to conclusions of absolute 
soundness. In reality, he has not leaped, but only run. 
His mind has passed so swiftly from premise to deduc- 
tion that he cannot remember the steps; is, indeed, 
generally unconscious of them. 

The other type, while it does not exactly plod, goes 
more slowly. Before it takes the next step, it establishes 
itself firmly on every rung of the ladder. It is fully con- 
scious of each stage in its journey. In case of error, it 
can go back and find the point where it departed from 
logical sequence. For all the brilliant miracles of the 
leaping mind, this walking mind is probably the more 
useful to men of affairs. Among world figures, Arthur 
Balfour, Woodrow Wilson, and Herbert Hoover belong 
to this mental caste. These are, or were, all men of 
finished education; working, too, in the broadest field of 
activity known to man. Their minds have therefore a 
wider scope than that of Adolph Zukor; but possibly no 
more power and skill in resolving a complex immediate 
problem. 

Many have noted this about him: he sits during most 
of the first hour of a conference or negotiation — to the 
perception of an uninformed stranger the least notice- 
able figure about the table. Then he begins to talk, and 
he dominates the next hour. As the others gave their 


THE MAN -AND THE MIND 


291 


data and views, he has been reducing them to their 
essential terms, building up step by step his own course 
of action until he comes to one of those sound determi- 
nations from which he seldom swerves. 

He is one half of a good reporter. He goes through the 
world with his eyes open, an acute collector of facts, 
human sidelights, even gossip. Remember that when he 
decided seriously to enter moving-picture exhibition, he 
studied the business in every aspect. But this acquisitive 
accumulation does not come forth in oral or written 
expression. Except in rare moments of relaxation, he 
avoids reminiscence. By a habit which has grown on him 
he states any old transaction of his complex career in its 
simplest, lowest terms. That vital struggle for control 
between production and distribution, for example — ask 
him about it, and he will answer, probably something 
like this: 

“Then I saw that we had to have a system of distri- 
bution; and so we formed Paramount. After a year or so, 
I saw that the distributors were going to strangle distri- 
bution if they kept on. So I got control of Paramount.’’ 
Nothing more. His mind is a crucible into which he 
loads the raw ore of observation and draws it out pure 
steel; and then he wields that steel in action. 

Not that he is inarticulate. Able men, when they care 
to express themselves, never are. However, Zukor talks 
most easily and naturally on abstractions and general 
principles — of his business, of politics, of life. In such 


292 THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT 

discussion, he looses eloquence, an epigrammatic faculty 
almost poetic at times and even a sly, perceptive 
humour. I was present when a visitor maintained in 
friendly argument that sex is the foundation-stone of 
the moving picture. 

“It is?” inquired Zukor. “Did The Birth of a Nation 
depend on sex? Did The Covered Wagon or The Big 
Parade or The Ten Commandments ? Or any other of the 
films which we managers advertise as epoch-making? 
The story’s the foundation of the whole structure. If it’s 
a good story that depends on sex, well and good. If it’s a 
good story that doesn’t depend on sex, just as good. 
Everyone of course likes a pretty, attractive woman. It’s 
part, and a very pleasant part of the scheme of life 
which we’re trying in our imperfect way to put onto the 
screen. Those directors who make their films drip with 
sex confess their own shallowness and inexpertness. 
They’re unable to tell a really first-class story, so they 
try to save themselves by sensationalism. It’s like the 
political orator who hasn’t anything more to say and 
knows he’s stuck, and so he goes on : ‘ Behold the starry 
banner, the proud symbol of our freedom.’ ” 

A turbulent, sparkling river, with rapids, lapping of 
waves on the shore, whirling eddies. It seems to the eye 
that these manifestations of power contain the power 
itself. They do not. Underneath, unseen motive-power 
of these striking manifestations, runs the current — 


THE MAN AND THE MIND 293 

puissant, quiet, undisturbed. So on the surface of the 
business which Adolph Zukor founded move and flash 
blazing display, shallow, glittering advertising, tinsel 
decoration. But underneath, motive-power of all, has 
run for fifteen years the deep, placid consciousness of 
this man. 


THE END 











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